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Black Thorn, White Rose cover Black Thorn, White Rose by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (eds).

Published by Avonova Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Once upon a time, fairy tales weren't just for children. Far from it, they were dark, hard-hitting parables about dealing with the perils of life in a very uncertain world. But as the traditional gave way to the modern, they were discredited for adult audiences and given over like worn-out furniture to the nursery, where they were Bowdlerized and purged of anything disturbing or substantial in order to make them "fit" for children.

Editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have sought to recapture that original power in their series of anthologies of fairy tales retold in a modern sensibility for adult audiences. Many of the stories in this volume, as in the previous one, will be far too dark and disturbing to be suitable for children. Some of them push the boundaries of horror, leaving the reader chilled as much as entertained. All of them are powerful and thought-provoking, and many will leave their readers thinking about them long after the book is finished.

It should be noted that "modern retelling" does not necessarily mean that the story will be recast in a modern setting. For instance, "Somnus's Fair Maid" retells the Sleeping Beauty tale in Regency England, using all the characteristic tropes of the Regency romance, and produces a hauntingly beautiful tale. "Granny Rumple" is a curious reworking of the Rumplestilskin tale amidst the Tsarist Russia of the pogroms against the Jews which manages to combine fantasy with a certain element of horror.

But retellings in the traditional settings often get a modern touch. "The Goose Girl" is a new take on that old fairy-tale, retelling it from the perspective of the prince, who sees it in a completely different way. And then there is "The Black Swan," which isn't a retelling of any one specific fairy tale, yet manages to incorporate the transformation motifs of many of them in a manner that is both chilling and memorable.

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This review posted September 8, 2000

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