A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have, epilepsy together and separately, won the World Fantasy Award at least twelve times. Ellen Datlow was the editor of Omni Magazine for many years and edited and published many stories by authors such as William Gibson and Pat Cadigan. Terri Windling is the founder of the Endicott Studio, which publishes a journal of mythic and interstitial arts. She also wrote a novel titled The Wood Wife; it won the Mythopoeic Award in 1996. They also edit the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror collections. As anthologists, they have about as much street cred as you can imagine.

ETA: Pursuant to a comment by Ellen Datlow herself, I would like to note that Terri Windling has not been her co-editor on the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror collections for four years now. Her current co-editors are Kelly Link (who wrote “Swans” in this anthology) and Gavin J. Grant (who also writes short stories and runs a small press with Link). My fault for not looking things up properly.

A Wolf at the Door is a short volume (166 pages) from 2001 of thirteen fairy tales retold (as the title might indicate). The fairy tales include Cinderella, The Goose Girl, Jack and the Beanstalk, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses; the authors include Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire, and Patricia McKillip. A complete list of titles and authors is available at the end of this review.

The stories in the collection range from reimagined (Cinderella as an ample-sized young woman, or Jack and the Beanstalk from the giant’s wife’s point of view) to retold (the Twelve Dancing Princesses is fairly standard, but from the prince’s limited third-person point of view). Some are humorous (Cinder Elephant has twittering birds making fun of the Disney Cinderella); some are a bit melancholy (Ali Baba loses his brother); a few have sad elements (death, separated lovers, brothers turned into swans). A couple were based on tales I didn’t know: “Twelve Months”, for example, and a couple of Portuguese fairy tales.

“The Months of Manhattan”, the first short story of the book, is the one based on “Twelve Months”. Delia Sherman (of recent Changeling fame) wrote it, and it was one of my favorites. It held a few of the same elements as Changeling: a New York landmark setting, a pair of similar/related girls, a tween-aged heroine, and the fantastic right in the middle of the mundane.

Many of the stories have semi-contemporary settings, such as “Ali Baba and the 40 Aliens”. Ali Baba is actually named Alberto Barbarino; his family runs an Italian restaurant, and he dresses like Neil Gaiman. Several kept their semi-historical settings, including the aforementioned “Cinder Elephant” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”. Tanith Lee’s “A Wolf at the Door” had my favorite setting: an ice-age, possibly post-apocalyptic reality, with lions who wandered around saying, “Hallo! Wot ya got?”

My two least favorite entries in the work were the poems, by Neil Gaiman and Gregory Maguire. I will attribute it to my general dislike of poetry other than Shakespeare; if anyone would like to tell me whether these are good poems or not, I’d love to hear.

Overall, it’s a well-done collection, with an interesting mix of tales. It’s recommended for ages 8-12; I’d say that was a good range. Older readers would enjoy the stories as well, and most would devour them in one sitting. I’ll award it as a collection 4.5/5 stars.

The stories:

  • “The Months of Manhattan”, by Delia Sherman
  • “Cinder Elephant”, by Jane Yolen
  • “Instructions”, by Neil Gaiman
  • “Mrs. Big: ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ Retold”, by Michael Cadnum
  • “Falada: The Goose Girl’s Horse”, by Nancy Farmer
  • “A Wolf at the Door”, by Tanith Lee
  • “Ali Baba and the Forty Aliens”, by Janeen Webb
  • “Swans”, by Kelly Link
  • “The Kingdom of Melting Glances”, by Katherine Vaz
  • “Hansel’s Eyes”, by Garth Nix
  • “Becoming Charise”, by Kathe Koja
  • “The Seven Stage a Comeback”, by Gregory Maguire
  • “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, by Patricia McKillip

2 thoughts on “A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling”

  1. Hi there,
    Thanks for the review…Just so you know, Terri hasn’t been co-editing the YBFH with for for about four years now. My current co-editors are Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant.

  2. Wow!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I will put a note in the post to reflect your co-editors. Somehow I missed that information; I’ve been a bit out of the loop with those particular anthologies.

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