The Green Man: Read it slowly

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Terri Windling The Wood WifeThe Green Man edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

In fairy tales, whenever someone journeys into the forest, you just know something strange is about to occur and that the protagonist’s life is going to be changed forever. The same is true of the stories and poems featured in The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. With this collection, editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling kicked off a series of young adult anthologies, each devoted to a particular theme. Here, the theme is wild nature, and most of the stories feature teenage characters who encounter the wilderness and undergo a coming-of-age experience there.

Of course, I have my favorites. Delia Sherman contributes a tale of the Faery Queen of Central Park, and the insecure girl who faces her in a battle of wits. Tanith Lee presents probably the darkest of the tales, “Among the Leaves So Green,” about two outcast sisters who each have a special destiny. (If I had to pick one favorite, this haunting tale would probably be it.) Emma Bull‘s “Joshua Tree” is a lovely story about high school, raves, friendship, and mystery set in an unexpected wilderness — a desert. Jane Yolen‘s poem “Cailleach Bheur” is terrific. For these stories and many more, I recommend this book.

I found a few of the stories disappointing. Patricia McKillip‘s “Hunter’s Moon,” while beautifully written, is a little too heavy-handed in its moral about hunting and meat-eating. In “Fee, Fie, Foe, Et Cetera,” Gregory Maguire fleshes out Jack (of Beanstalk fame), his mom, his brother, and the harp, yet none of these characters were really sympathetic to me. Again, the writing is good, but the story is just not for me.

A little advice on how to get the most out of The Green Man: Take your time and savor the stories one or two at a time. Don’t make my mistake and plow through half the book in one night! Unlike most of Datlow and Windling’s anthologies, there’s a great deal of similarity among the stories in terms of their structure. After you’ve read six stories about kids having life-changing experiences in the forest, they start to run together, and you tend to miss the finer points of each story. Instead, you’re thinking, “OK, the kid’s getting lost in the woods now… time to encounter the supernatural…time to learn the life lesson…”

But if you read The Green Man slowly, you’ll be better able to appreciate each story’s subtleties, and I think you’ll find this anthology worth reading. It’s visually gorgeous, too; Charles Vess provides cover art and beginning-of-chapter “decorations” that are elegant and fitting.

The Green Man — (2002) Young adult. Publisher: One of our most universal myths is that of the Green Man — the spirit who stands for Nature in its most wild and untamed form. Through the ages and around the world, the Green Man and other nature spirits have appeared in stories, songs, and artwork, as well as many beloved fantasy novels, including Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Now Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, the acclaimed editors of over thirty anthologies, have gathered some of today’s finest writers of magical fiction to interpret the spirits of nature in short stories and poetry. Folklorist and artist Charles Vess brings his stellar eye and brush to the decorations, and Windling provides an introduction exploring Green Man symbolism and forest myth. The Green Man is required reading — not only for fans of fantasy fiction but for those interested in mythology and the mysteries of the wilderness.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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