Once upon a time…
These words are a familiar beginning to those of us who enjoy reading - or hearing - a good, old fashioned fairy tale. I mention this, because a couple of the tales in the collection called The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye start with this exact line. And if this weren’t enough to explain the premise, the subtitle of the book - Five Fairy Stories - brings the point home. The stories were written by A.S. Byatt and gathered together in a somewhat slender volume. A slender volume, incidentally, which I enjoyed reading immensely.
I’ve already revealed that the stories in the book are fairy tales. Indeed, they are described in the inside cover teaser text as: “…fairy tales for adults, which retain the mystery and beauty of the world we imagine as children.” With that information as a background, here is a list of the stories, with some impressions by yours truly.
“The Glass Coffin”
This is an enchanting, classic fairy tale, complete with a humble hero and of course the typical tests he has to undergo to prove himself worthy. The writing is absolutely brilliant. Lush, evocative, and memorable are all words I would use for A.S. Byatt’s writing style.
The best way I could explain “Gode’s Story” is to call it somber. Or dark. Or perhaps compare it to a Grimm style fairy tale. It’s a tale of love. Well, sort of.
“The Story of the Eldest Princess”
The conventions of fairy tales are explored, and then turned inside out, in this unexpected interpretation of a traditional quest theme. I would summarize it as follows : complications arise in a heroine’s Quest to restore the color of the sky. Of course, that description doesn’t do it justice. You will simply have to read it for yourself. I think I enjoyed this short story the most.
This is sort of an odd little tale, about a strange, far away land, and the lives of three of its isolated but intriguing inhabitants. Quirky and charming, and like the story before it, quite unexpected. Plus, I adore the name “Dragon’s Breath”.
“The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye”
Scholar and “narratologist” Gillian Perholt is the protagonist of this, the longest story in the collection and the one that lent the book its name. After our obligatory Once Upon A Time, it starts with the following lines : “Her business was storytelling, but she was no ingenious queen in fear of the shroud brought in with the dawn…” How could you not be intrigued by this tantalizing beginning?
The first two tales - “The Glass Coffin” and “Gode’s Story” - seemed familiar to me. Hadn’t I just read them recently somewhere? Oh yes, it was in Possession, A.S. Byatt’s novel. Which I reviewed here at Mythography recently. After reading Possession, I was completely entranced by the author’s ability to bring old fairy stories to life. So needless to say I was delighted when I found and read The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye once again.
This book is available at Amazon.com:
Do you have any favorite, contemporary retellings of fairy tale, myth, and/or legend? If so, please share them with me here or on the Mythography forums.