I see I have already written about Jane Yolen in a previous post, back in 2019, but this one is based on the theme of using fairy tales in modern fiction and she is THE reteller of fairy tales.
Jane Yolen is an American Jewish fantasy writer. I specify the Jewish because there are so many Jewish elements in her writing.
She is also a writer of a lot of fiction based on fairy tales.
Her book How To Fracture A Fairy Tale features several of her short stories based on fairy tales, then blurbs explaining what she had in mind when writing them. I have a copy in Apple Books, but you can also get it in Kindle, print and audiobook.
The good news is, there is literally a Jane Yolen book for every day of the year, whether adult, children’s, YA, picture book or poetry - 365 so far and I see there are more coming!
I haven’t read anywhere near all of them so far and there wouldn’t be space in this post anyway, so I’ll just cover a few.
I’ve said a lot of her fiction has Jewish elements. In How To Fracture A Fairy Tale there is her short story “Granny Rumple” which sets the story of Rumplestiltskin in 19th century Ukraine. It’s not a kingdom, just a small town, and the father’s boast is that his daughter can do amazing tapestries when she can’t. She borrows from a young Jewish moneylender who organises to buy the tapestries and goes easy on her with the loan. She marries the mayor’s son and when she hasn’t repaid the loan, the moneylender’s wife goes to try to get the money. The woman screams that they want her baby and this leads to a pogrom and the death of the moneylender. It’s an interesting take on the fairy tale; the author says that in the fairy tale the only character who does what he promises and isn’t lying is Rumplestiltskin.
Another story in the book is Holocaust themed, “Slipping Sideways Through Eternity” in which the heroine slips away from a Passover Seder, following the prophet Elijah, who has a task for her that involves time travel and rescue of some concentration camp inmates. Elijah the prophet is a folklore character as part of Passover celebrations. As well as leaving an extra seat for the stranger who might turn up you leave a glass of wine for Elijah. At some stage in the ceremony the children are sent to open the door for him. I remember doing this as a child. My father used to drink the prophet’s wine while I was at the door.
Her novel Briar Rose is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set during the Holocaust. You can’t get this one in ebook, but in paperback.
Mapping The Bones is based on “Hansel And Gretel”, also set during the Holocaust. When you think about “Hansel And Gretel”, the image of an oven pops up. It’s easy to make the connection with the ovens of the Nazi death camps. It’s available in audiobook from both Amazon and Apple Books and in print, but not in ebook.
She doesn’t only write Holocaust themed fiction. The stories in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale vary from a story seen from the viewpoint of the bridge crossed by the Billygoats Gruff to another in which Icarus doesn’t die of his fall, but…
And there is, of course, the verse novel Finding Baba Yaga I mentioned in a previous post.
A children’s book, Merlin And The Dragons is available very cheaply on Apple Books and it’s read by Kevin Kline!
She isn’t the only reteller of folk tales by any means, but is certainly the most prolific!