In fairy tales, whenever someone journeys into the forest, you just know something strange is about to occur and that the protagonist’s life is going to be changed forever. The same is true of the stories and poems featured in The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. With this collection, editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling kicked off a series of young adult anthologies, each devoted to a particular theme. Here, the theme is wild nature, and most of the stories feature teenage characters who encounter the wilderness and undergo a coming-of-age experience there.
Of course, I have my favorites. Delia Sherman contributes a tale of the Faery Queen of Central Park, and the insecure girl who faces her in a battle of wits. Tanith Lee presents probably the darkest of the tales, “Among the Leaves So Green,” about two outcast sisters who each have a special destiny. (If I had to pick one favorite, this haunting tale would probably be it.) Emma Bull‘s “Joshua Tree” is a lovely story about high school, raves, friendship, and mystery set in an unexpected wilderness — a desert. Jane Yolen‘s poem “Cailleach Bheur” is terrific. For these stories and many more, I recommend this book.
I found a few of the stories disappointing. Patricia McKillip‘s “Hunter’s Moon,” while beautifully written, is a little too heavy-handed in its moral about hunting and meat-eating. In “Fee, Fie, Foe, Et Cetera,” Gregory Maguire fleshes out Jack (of Beanstalk fame), his mom, his brother, and the harp, yet none of these characters were really sympathetic to me. Again, the writing is good, but the story is just not for me.
A little advice on how to get the most out of The Green Man: Take your time and savor the stories one or two at a time. Don’t make my mistake and plow through half the book in one night! Unlike most of Datlow and Windling’s anthologies, there’s a great deal of similarity among the stories in terms of their structure. After you’ve read six stories about kids having life-changing experiences in the forest, they start to run together, and you tend to miss the finer points of each story. Instead, you’re thinking, “OK, the kid’s getting lost in the woods now… time to encounter the supernatural…time to learn the life lesson…”
But if you read The Green Man slowly, you’ll be better able to appreciate each story’s subtleties, and I think you’ll find this anthology worth reading. It’s visually gorgeous, too; Charles Vess provides cover art and beginning-of-chapter “decorations” that are elegant and fitting.