Muse du Jour

My name is Marianne Plumridge. I am an artist of mythic fantasy works and fine art images. I also satisfy my creative muse with sewing, cooking, writing and reading. These are my thoughts and adventures with whichever muse drives me each day. You can find more of my art at www.marianneplumridge.com

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Location: New England, United States

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Winter Solstice...and Green Men

I wasn't considering posting two book reviews in a row, but it being the Winter Solstice today, I couldn't let it pass without involving the Green Man...

“The Green Man: Tales From the Mythic Forest.” Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

November 2004 – Firebird, an imprint of Penguin. ISBN 0-14-240029-7; Trade Paperback; 388 pages; Price $8.99.

Reviewed by Marianne Plumridge (c) June 2005

This anthology was originally published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, back in 2002 for the young adult market. It might explain why the protagonists are generally youthful, and the stories resemble a ‘coming of age’ as well as the symbolic rebirth that is usually associated with the archetypical ‘Green Man’ of myth. It might also explain the broad range of contemporary styles of narrator ‘voices’, which in the onset, seems to jar the reader. One after all, usually associates the Green Man or Green Woman persona with the silent, brooding, scary depths of mystical deep forests of old and the mythical figures which populate them.

In this collection however, those prosaic assumptions have been given a very fresh and intriguing twist.

Kathe Koje’s REMNANTS is a contemporary, slightly ambiguous story, told from the point of view of someone moderately deranged. I’m not sure if the protagonist is really supposed to be a ‘green person’ lost in the flotsam and jetsam of civilization’s huge amount of rubbish remnants, but it initially appears to be the case. The presence of the ‘Green Figure’ is barely a whisper throughout, despite the forest made of plastic bags. I suppose the symbolism is intended to mean that humans have lost their instinctive intimacy with the forest and environment, and we’re trying to recreate it on our own terms, via the things we consume and discard each day. This story seems more of an environmental statement than an encounter with the ‘Green Man’. The protagonist does not undergo the traditional transformation associated with the ‘Green Figure’ archetype, but returns to what it was doing – making plastic trees; unless of course, the transformation took place before the story began. I liked it, but as a reader, the ‘jury’ is ‘out’ on this one.

THE BOY WHO WAS by Carolyn Dunn is mythical, almost shamanistic story, told from the point of view of a human woman – proud of bearing but crippled physically – who yearns after a warrior. The warrior returns her love, but is killed/transformed during a hunt because the woman, in breaking a taboo by stepping over a pond, inadvertently releases the ‘Green Figure’ spirit – in this case it is the Deer Woman. The Deer Woman transforms the warrior into a large water snake of sorts (?), and the human woman sacrifices herself to him so they can be together.

Carol Emshwiller’s entry, OVERLOOKING, was just a little too experimental to be completely comprehensive to the reader – or at least this reader. I’m not sure what the author intended or where the story was going. While I found this entry somewhat confusing, I’m sure that other readers will possibly find it meaningful. Insight always depends on your point of view, after all.

I found FEE, FIE, FOE, ET CETERA by Gregory Maguire to be a witty and intelligent retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, but aside from the beanstalk, I’m not sure what it has to do with the ‘Green Man’ unless the ‘Green Man’ was the giant at the top of the stalk.

Perhaps one of the most traditionally told stories in this anthology is JOSHUA TREE by Emma Bull. It is an insightful telling of a young woman’s realization of her ‘true’ self. She begins to ‘see’ the people around her for what they really are – callous, shallow, issue-ridden, and insecure - and the fact that she could end up like them if she lets herself. A distraught night in the desert finds her in a grove of Joshua Trees: there, a green tree-like figure gives of itself to nourish her and save her. With this, her transformation carries through but is by no means complete. This was the happenstance that allowed her to realize that she was worth saving. The acceptance of this moves the girl to start making a stand against the bullies who pester her, and to start making herself visible in class by answering as well as asking questions. The girl is determined to get out of the box that society has put her in – label and all. This is a great story, but I was disappointed a little that the ‘Green Man’ didn’t have more of a visible tenet throughout.

Another traditionally styled story, GROUNDED by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, weaves the mores of music and the natural forest together in a beautiful blend of growth and realization of transformation in the chief protagonist: a young girl. She is forced to deal with her mixed feelings about her mother’s job, her father’s failure to ‘be there’, and the aspects of encountering a prospective strange new stepfather and step-siblings. Themes recurrent throughout are of transformation, and life, death and rebirth, all wrapped around a Green Man sub-text and humankind’s relationship with nature.

All the stories in this Green Man anthology are of a high standard and I recommend them highly to young and old alike. Other stories that stood out and lingered in my mind were: GRAND CENTRAL PARK by Delia Sherman - a charming contemporary encounter with a ‘Green Man’ or in this case, a ‘Green Girl’. It’s a witty tale and also very funny. Charles De Lint’s SOMEWHERE IN MY MIND THERE IS A PAINTING BOX is a nicely told story about transformation, choices, and magic. A charming ‘period piece’ wrapped around a simple artists painting box, telling of how art can enslave as well as release the soul and spirit. DAPHNE by Michael Cadnum is an earthy retelling of the Greek myth of how a girl was turned into a tree to escape the lust of the god, Apollo. AMONG THE LEAVES SO GREEN by Tanith Lee is a pretty, mythical or fairy tale style story of two half sisters who have a similar wish, but find transformation in different ways. One becomes a fairy tale princess but whose descendants wither in grace; the other is a daughter of the ‘Green Man’ and endures like the trees and the forest – gaining brothers and sisters in the other sprites who dwell there. Very nicely told. Patricia A. Mckillip’s HUNTER’S MOON is a cautionary tale about ‘be careful what you hunt, lest it come hunting you’. I rather liked this one. The green spirits aren’t passive or romantically portrayed, but were envisaged more like the elemental spirits that inhabited the lands of Celtic Brittany and England before the French gentrification of the Arthurian legends in the middle ages. In a more contemporary portrayal, and perhaps more relevant to our troubled times, Midori Snyder’s CHARLIE’S AWAY tells of the influence of a ‘Green Figure’ – a woman this time – who affects a family. The themes of loss, grief, transformation, acceptance and understanding are perhaps the most meaningful of all these stories because these issues resonate continuously throughout our daily lives.

This is a wonderfully diverse anthology by some major fantasy talents of our time. Heartily I applaud the deft shaping of the fiction by the editors, Datlow and Windling, and look forward to what ever mythic realms they delve into next, and the stories told there.

Marianne Plumridge

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