The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Posted On 30 November 2017

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emeraldI don’t make a secret of the fact that short stories don’t always work for me and in fact I usually avoid collections but the promise of retellings based on old favourites such as Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz and the mention of tales that bring into play Robin Hood, Merlin and King Arthur, definitely intrigued me and I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of this one.

Did Jane Yolen manage to spin her magic in this collection, yes, for me she did.  I’m not going to pretend that I was equally gripped by all the tales, in a collection like this it’s inevitable that you’ll have favourites, just like in a box of chocolates, but the writing was lovely and the feeling of reading a story before going to sleep all added to the sense of whimsy and nostalgia and made this collection enjoyable to pick up last thing of an evening.  And, thankfully, unlike a box of chocolates – there were no coffee ones.

I’m not going to go into all the offerings but will highlight briefly the ones that worked well for me.

The first tale looks at the life of Hans Christian Anderson.  Famous the world over for his wonderful stories this particular offering has a lovely fairytale feel that combines elements that for me brought to mind Pinocchio, The Snow Queen and even, a little, the Elves and the Shoemaker – which isn’t to say that those are Anderson stories (apart from the Snow Queen that is).  This is a story that has a sad feeling to it although the ending is a little bit more upbeat.  It brought to mind the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ and also the fae nature of wishes and more to the point making sure that they’re very specifically worded.

Lost Girls was a story that shines a different light on Peter Pan and perhaps looks at the changing role of women – or maybe I’m just reading too much into it – there’s this whole element here of why did Peter really bring Wendy to Neverland?  She didn’t really take part in his adventures but was brought there more to fulfil the role of ‘mother’.  For me, Lost Girls adds another level to the story.  Girls want to take part in the adventure not just facilitate the adventures of others while they stand by with a cup of tea and a hanky.

My absolute favourite of the book was A Knot of Toads.  I just really enjoyed this story.  Based in Scotland it’s a tale that invokes long shadows, whispers in corners and witchcraft.  A young woman who returns to her childhood home to lay her father to rest.  Estranged for many years the two of them shared a love of books and a misunderstanding of each other.  This story just really appealed to me and on top of that who knew that toads were sometimes known as puddocks.  That’s a keeper.

Our Lady of the Greenwood was another of my favourites.  It takes the myth of Robin Hood, adds a hint of fae and comes up with a story of how Robin was named.  I’m a bit of a sucker for all things fae and so the scene in the woods with the fae dancing beneath the trees, coupled with the sometimes dangerous side to their nature really appealed to me.  The naming scene in the woods had a lovely element of the fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty.  I could certainly have read more of this tale – Robin Hood and his adventures – brings fond memories of my gran who used to recount tales to me and my sister.  I loved her storytelling – she had a way of telling us stories that on reflection could be quite dark.  Robin Hood’s tales were the lighter ones and it was lovely to go back to a story about how he possible received his name.  My gran would have liked this one I think.

The last two stories that I will mention are:

Evian Steel which is a beautifully written story that could be a very early start to the legend of Merlin, King Arthur and his queen .  It revolves around the forging of swords, Excalibur, and also brought to mind the Lady in the Lake.  I loved this one.  The island came to life in my imagination, the life of the girls sent to learn how to forge steel and the fears they had of what was to come.  It had a mysteriously dark side and was so well executed.

Sister Emily’s Lightship was the final tale and was very quirky and different in nature than the other stories in this book.  A look at Emily Dickinson and her, perhaps, out of this world inspirational experience.

This was a lovely collection of stories.  Some of them will undoubtedly appeal more than others but if you fancy a book that you can pick up randomly to read a story in one sitting this could be just what you’re looking for.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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14 Responses to “The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen”

  1. Tammy

    Im glad you enjoyed this. I was tempted to read it, but I decided not to due to too big of a TBR. But I do like Jane Token and these stories sound really good, especially Lost Girls.

    • @lynnsbooks

      She’s a lovely writer for sure but I completely understand about the overburdened TBR. It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally reached a place where I’m just not requesting as much – at the end of the day I realised I’m just putting pressure on myself by requesting too many books.
      Lynn 😀

  2. sjhigbee

    It looks a really fine collection – but while I don’t mind reading short stories when I’m writing, I need to immerse myself in a novel when I’m not…

    • @lynnsbooks

      I completely understand. Short stories aren’t usually my thing but this collection was very easy to read and I had 4 or 5 firm favourites.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        It’s sounds a really good collection:)

      • @lynnsbooks

        It was very easy to get through.
        Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Short stories can indeed go both ways, and you’re right in stressing that in a collection there might be a few that don’t speak to us at all, but from your description these sound like wonderful retellings of known myths, and I’m very, very intrigued. Worth taking a peek… 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      It would be difficult for any author to write a collection like this and for the readers to like them all equally. I enjoyed reading these one at a time, gradually over a couple of weeks rather than trying to read them in a couple of sittings like I would do with a straightforward novel.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Sounds like a pretty high positive to negative ratio for a collection of short stories. That is actually quite rare! I’m glad you enjoyed this, now I don’t feel as intimidated as I usually get when I have to tackle anthologies 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think, for me, deciding to read one each day at the end of the night worked well for me – rather than trying to sit and read a few.
      Lynn 😀

  5. November : My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen […]

  6. jessicabookworm

    I was lucky enough to win a digital copy of this and I am even more excited to read it now I’ve read your thoughts 😀

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