Review: Sister Emily's Lightship by Jane Yolen

Since I’ve been writing short stories, I thought I’d mention some more short story collections that I’ve read by other authors!

I first discovered Jane Yolen through her children's books, the adorable "How Does a Dinosaur?" books. I checked them out of the library to read to my little girl, and we ended up buying How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Room?. These are lovely books for toddlers and young children--good messages delivered in a charming and imaginative way. However, on a later library trip, I discovered Sister Emily’s Lightship, and realized the author of some of my daughter's favorite books was also an award winning science fiction and fantasy writer for adults! I had to check the book out.

This book has twenty eight short stories, each one unique. In fact, it's hard to sum up Yolen's work, since the stories are so diverse in tone. Yet each one was interesting in its own right. I loved the lyricism of stories like "Become a Warrior" or "The Traveler and the Tale," as well as the cheeky impertinence of "Lost Girls." Yolen has a particular gift for re-telling fairy tales in a fresh, often startling way. "Granny Rumple" is penetrating examination of the Rumpelstiltskin story, one that reveals the original's unsavory origins. Likewise, "Allereirauh" and "Godmother Death" are haunting versions of folk tales and the bitter truths they hide. "Allereirauh" deals with the tragedy of incest and child abuse, and the horrid cycle it produces in one generation after another. Yolen also has several very funny stories, including a hilarious critique of Romeo and Juliet in "Dusty Loves" and the raunchy but enjoyable "Dick W. and his Pussy; or, Tess and her Adequate Dick."

Out of so many vastly different stories, I found it hard to pick my favorites, but if I had to, I'd say either "Sister Death" or "The Memoirs  of a Bottle Djinn." "Sister Death" is a dark tale about Lillith, yet the twist at the end, especially with its uncertain hope of redemption, makes it a powerful tale. I enjoyed "The Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn" because it was so evocative of the glories and joys of life, and the way that asceticism and religious fundamentalism rob life of its meaning. But the best part of the story was its wise protagonist, who recognizes that all the pleasures in the world are meaningless without love and companionship.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves science fiction and fantasy. And I'd also recommend Yolen's children's books to parents everywhere!