THE GREEN MAN
Edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The theme of the stories collected in The Green Man is laid out in editor Terri Windling’s introduction in which she traces the folklore related to this avatar of nature. In addition to the fifteen stories, the editors have chosen to include three poems, each of which capture an aspect of the legend and provide the proper emotion and representation for the stories which are included in the anthology.
In addition to the standard author introduction which explains whose work the reader is about to enjoy, Datlow and Windling have also elected to have their authors provide a brief afterword to their stories in which they could discuss the inspiration of the tale or themes they wished to explore. This type of addition always adds to the story, while at the same time allowing the author greater freedom in dictating the manner in which the reader views the tale.
The poem which opens the book, Neil Gaiman’s “Going Wodwo” is an invocation to the carefreeness of nature. In only a few short stanzas, Gaiman depicts the joy of getting back to nature at the same time, the poem captures the hidden dangers of the forest as the speaker gives himself over to the sirens call of a life which doesn’t really belong to him.
In a forest closer to home, Delia Sherman turns her attention to the large green space of Central Park in Manhattan. Although her story nominally takes place in the middle of an urban environment, it is not an urban fantasy, focusing on a battle of wits between a young girl and the queen of the fairies. What sets this story apart from other stories in this genre is the fact that the young girl is fully aware of fairy tales and knows the traps which are inherent in all of the queen’s offers.
Michael Cadnum looks at the Greek myth of “Daphne” from the heroine’s point of view. The daughter of a river god, Daphne has vowed to remain celibate, instantly gaining the unwanted attention of Apollo. While Greek myths are generally recounted from the deity’s point of view, or at least a sympathetic view of the god, Daphne’s story is told from her point of view as a victim, providing the story with strength and meaning.
Charles de Lint provides a link to his stories Strays and Waifs and Seven Wild Sisters with “Somewhere in My Mind There is a Painting Box.” Lily discovers the painting box of Milo Johnson, a long missing Newford artist, in the woods. A burgeoning painter herself, she goes back to see if she can discover anything more of his fate, only to discover his assistant, Frank Spain, who went missing with him twenty years earlier. However, Spain shows no signs of having aged since their mysterious disappearance. Despite a growing relationship between Lily and Spain, he is determined to return to the land of Faery in which he has been living and offers Lily the opportunity to return with him.
Tanith Lee’s “Among the Leaves So Green” is a fairy tale without the feel of one. Set in an unnamed Medieval kingdom, it tells the story of two half-sisters who are outcasts because their mother is the village “easy-woman.” They live with constant abuse and disdain, not just from the village, but also their mother and each other. When they head off into the woods to purchase eggs from an old widow, an encounter with an ancient forest god results in each of them winning their freedom in surprising ways. While the older sister is portrayed as worthy of punishment, and her freedom actually seems to be a punishment, Lee insists that it is not and by the end of the story, the reader can come to see how it is more of a gift than anything else.
Jane Yolen doesn’t treat the forest so much as the spirit of winter in the “Song of the Cailleach Bheur,” a poem which is evocative of the Scottish highlands in which the mythical creature of the title is said to live.
“Hunter’s Moon” is a story by Patricia A. McKillip which appears to buy into the concept of the nobility of nature. When Dawn Chase and her younger brother Ewan get lost while visiting her Uncle Ridley during a hunting trip, they are rescued by one of the mysterious Hunter brothers. The next day, when Ewan, his father, and Uncle Ridley go hunting, Dawn has another encounter with Oakley Hunter and learns that nature eventually will exact a vengeance on those who mistreat it. McKillip provides the story with the feel that nature is there to be enjoyed by those who know how, and not used in any manner.
When Charlie’s is accepted to Brown University, he is anything but happy in “Charlie’s Away” by Midori Snyder. As the story progresses, it is clear that Charlie is not just scared of leaving home or his girlfriend, Nina, but that he feels a duty to his parents, to whom he feels a responsibility for the death of his younger sister many years before. Charlie finds solace in the massive trees which surround his house and eventually learns that the trees are more than what they seem, just as his sisters death is not exactly what it seems. Snyder uses the forest imagery as a means of indicating Charlie’s reluctance to grow up, despite the adult responsibilities he has already taken upon himself.
“A World Painted by Birds” is a story of magic realism by Katherine Vaz. Set in a dictatorial banana republic in which anything which causes joy is outlawed, the story focuses on Hugo, a violinist, and the woman who falls in love with him. Their acts of beauty lead them to eventually freedom on the far side of the forest from the dictator, but his evil eventually follows them and catches up with them. Nature and the forest provides not only a means of resistance against evil, but also hope for goodness.
Although nature pervades the anthology, as would be expected given its theme, Nina Kiriki Hoffman begins her story, “Grounded,” with the internet as Meg, a divorced mother, meets a man on the internet and they fall in love. Hoffman tells the story of their first physical meeting, as seen through the eyes of Meg’s teenage daughter, Fiona. Everything seems to be going too well to be true. Vernon’s children, Tam and Holly are likable and go out of their way to make Fiona welcome and Vernon has even purchased a piano for her to play during their visit. However, when Fiona begins spending a little time alone with Tam or Holly, she realizes that there is something strange about the children and her perceptions are not necessarily what she would expect them to be.
Carol Emshwiller tells her tale, “Overlooking” from the point of view of the spirits of the forest who find humans who hike through the woods so amusing. In this case, there is a distance between the narrator and the reader which makes it difficult to really gain any sort of tie to the creature describing the action.
Gregory Maguire provides a fractured fairy tale of Jack and the Bean Stalk with his “Fie, Fi, Fo, Fum.” The tone is such that the reader can just hear E. Everett Horton narrating the story of Jacks the Greater and Lesser and their mother's troubles with the King of Kingland. The story is told with wit and the knowledge of the "real" story behind the actions Maguire shows adds depth to the entire story.
“Joshua Tree” is a coming of age story which looks at misfit Tabetha Sikorsky, who lives in a small desert town near the Joshua Tree National Park. Emma Bull paints a fantastic picture of an intelligent, but bored, teenager, who sees that her whole life is planned out for her, whether she wants it to be or not. Tabetha's only recourse is to play along with everyone's expectations of what she should be because of fear of being noticed. Her outlook is changed when a New Girl, Alice, shows up at her school. Although Tabetha wants nothing to do with Alice, circumstances throw the two together and Tabetha finds that Alice may be exactly what she needs to get out of her rut.
Carolyn Dunn tells an American Indian tale in “Ali anugne o chash (the boy who was).” An Indian girl is drawn to the spirit world and eventually gives in to their summoning. The ending of the tale is ambiguous. It can either be a cause for rejoicing in a new, and happier, form the protagonist takes on to join her beloved, or it could be tragic if the transformation described is seen as delusional.
While the theme of this anthology lends itself to ideas of conservation, Kathe Koja takes a look at the role garbage has in (as opposed to on) the environment in “Remnants.” Her narrator lives the existence of a jackdaw, saving other people’s trash and trying to transform it into a thing of beauty, a home. This collection takes on the shape of the forest which has been removed by society, and which society cannot abide in its revised form, either.
M. Shayne Bell portrays a symbiotic relationship between the forces of nature and mankind in “The Pagodas of Ciboure,” which follows the youth of the composer Maurice Ravel as he tries to overcome the ill health which afflicted him. The pagodas of the title are not oriental temples, but rather a strange legendary creature from France whose singing not only inspires the Ravel of the story, but can also, under the right circumstances, effect a cure for ill health. Although Bell could easily have set the situation up as a puzzle for Ravel to solve, instead, he decides to create an outcome naturally, which strengthens the story considerably.
At its heart, the legend of the Green Man is a primordial view of nature. In his short poem, “The Green Man,” Bill Lewis, examines the way this primordial anthropomorphism survives into modern times.Jeffrey Ford finishes the anthology with “The Green Word,” a strange combination of pagan and Christian ideologies which takes many of the trappings of high fantasy. The story opens with the execution of a rebel who has been using the forest for a base of operations. The monarch, King Pious, manages to stamp out the rebellion, forcing its adherents to convert from their pagan beliefs to his own religion. In the process, he is approached by a strange tree man which was created from the martyr’s blood and shows Pious the promise of great power in a mixture of its paganism and Christianity.
|Neal Gaiman||Going Wodwo (poem)|
|Delia Sherman||Grand Central Park|
|Charles de Lint||Somewhere in My Mind There is a Painting Box|
|Tanith Lee||Among the Leaves So Green|
|Jane Yolen||Song of the Cailleach Bheur (poem)|
|Patricia A. McKillip||Hunter's Moon|
|Midori Snyder||Charlie's Away|
|Katherine Vaz||A World Painted by Birds|
|Nina Kiriki Hoffman||Grounded|
|Gregory Maguire||Fee, Fie, Fo, et Cetera|
|Emma Bull||Joshua Tree|
|Carolyn Dunn||Ali anunge o chash (the boy who was)|
|M. Shayne Bell||The Pagodas of Ciboure|
|Bill Lewis||The Green Man (poem)|
|Jeffrey Ford||The Green Word|
Purchase this book from