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The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors Hardcover – April, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
In her introduction to this powerful collection of modern-day fairy tales, Windling (editor of the Snow White, Blood Red series) lays out the familiar case that fairy tales are often representations of the psychological terrors of childhood. But she goes beyond the symbolic, invoking statistics about child abuse and molestation to make the case that the transmuting of actual trauma into narrative is demonstrably therapeutic: that fairy tales have the power to act as tools of healing and guides to survival for victims of childhood abuse. The collection consists of 26 stories, 17 poems and a scattering of nonfiction pieces, most of them original to this volume. Many of the selections are retellings of older tales, sometimes transplanted to contemporary settings. Steven Gould's "The Session" puts a modern spin on the Snow White story; Tanith Lee's "She Sleeps in a Tower" presents a darker look at Sleeping Beauty; Ellen Steiber draws on a Brothers Grimm tale, "Brother and Sister," for her story "In the Night Country." Other authors adapt fairy-tale motifs and structures into original tales, as Jane Yolen does in "The Face in the Cloth," Munro Sickafoose in "Knives" and Tappan Wright King in "Wolf's Heart." Though treating common themes, the selections employ a variety of tones and styles that keep the collection from being monotonal. They might have been better arranged, however, since most of the stories that focus specifically on sexual abuse appear in the book's first half and begin to lose force through repetition.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
I had to put this book down for a time between the stories, some were very dark and I had to "regroup" before venturing on.
I think this book deserves a higher score, but I had trouble with the darkness within. I am a big Terri Windling fan but some of these stories were not for me.
If we look carefully at fairy tales, many of them are actually about what we would now call child abuse. Cinderella was neglected. Handel and Gretel were abandoned. Donkeyskin suffered incest. And there are so many more. And in most of the stories, the protagonist rises above the situation somehow--in the old versions, usually by gaining fortune and position. In the stories in _The Armless Maiden_, the triumph is more often psychological. I read once--I think it was in a book by Marina Warner--that the essential theme of the fairy tale is transformation. In these stories, we see victims transformed into survivors.
These are serious fairy tales for our times, and I recommend the book both to abuse survivors and to those who did not suffer abuse (trust me, everyone knows someone who did). My personal favorite contributions are Emma Bull's poem about Cinderella's stepsister regretting the friendship they never had, and Ellen Kushner's "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep", the story of a young girl in the custody of a cold-hearted guardian, and haunted by the ghost of the woman's unhappy daughter.
of books - but not many actually leave me short of breath.
This collection (of fiction, poetry, memoir and essays) looks
at childhood and growing up through the lens of myth and
especially fairy tale. PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS IS NOT
A BOOK FOR CHILDREN, HOWEVER. (It probably isn't a book for
most adults.) It emcompasses a wide range of styles
and subject matter; some of the pieces turn a bright, unwav-
ering light on child abuse, violence, rape and death. What
left me breathless wasn't the ugliness of the subject matter
though; it was the thrill of really great writing. Fearless,
enobling creativity. Windling even includes statements from
the authors about the process of writing some of the pieces;
they're interesting, and also provide a respite from the
pieces themselves, sort of a "tension and release" mechanism.
Standouts are Yolen and de Lindt, neither of whose work was
familiar to me before this anthology. I'm thrilled that this
book is coming out in paperback, and that it has another
chance to find the audience it deserves. (Also that I'll be
able to afford more copies for gifts.)
Yet somehow, the anthology as a whole maintains a certain effective atmosphere. Perhaps it's that theme does beg collection, because it is so prevalent and so powerful--and so even a subpar collection is, in its way, rewarding. Perhaps its that not all the selections were written for The Armless Maiden--and the reprints are often the best, the least transparent, the least didactic, of the lot. Certainly it's that Windling's arrangement is fantastic--she's a practiced and polished editor, and this anthology flows beautifully: a varied pace (with a particularly superb ratio of poetry to prose) keeps it fresh, while thematic and tonal growth give it forward momentum. I prefered the poems, with Delia Sherman's Snow White to the Prince and Terri Windling's Brother and Sister among my favorites; the prose is less successful, but Peter Straub's The Juniper Tree and Joanna Russ's The Dirty Little Girl are welcome exceptions, and many of the brief memoirs are quite strong. Some of the short stories are accompanied by essays by the author, and while this theme can stand up to analysis, these analyses have an unfortunate knack for wandering from insights to truisms. The exception is Windling's remarkable afterward, which captures the balance between the metaphorical and literal, the implied and actual, of fairy tales themselves and the readers and writers who interpret them. The problem is that so little else in the anthology finds this balance--but other fairy tales and retellings, even if they have a less obvious focus on child abuse, do. The Armless Maiden has atmosphere and intent, but its content is mixed, with a few standout selections but many more which are disappointing. It's compelling and effective at the time, but leaves only a shallow final impression. I recommend it with those caveats: I applaud what Windling tries to do, and would rather read this collection than none--but I would have preferred, and the theme deserves, something that goes beyond good intentions, something more impassioned than didactic, sometime of greater art and impact.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Actually, this is not a review atall, although I should say it, shortly and to the point: The ArmlessMaiden is a gorgeous anthology, one of the best...Read more