Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, The Green Man -- Tales from the Mythic Forest (Viking, 2002)

 

Once in a while, we get a publication that's so good that I as, editor of Green Man, say, 'That's mine, all mine!' The Green Man -- Tales from the Mythic Forest, which I've known about for over a year now, arrived for review today. Like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (which also has some awesome Green Men in it), I'll say this anthology is so, so preciousssssss, so wonderful that I'm keeping it! Mine, all mine!

Before we actually talk about the contents, let's discuss the design of the book itself. It won't surprise you that I have a strong liking for the Green Man in all of his aspects, as you can see from this Web site, which has the Green Man as its motif, both in name and in graphical form. (Our Green Men were designed by Lahri Bond of Heartsworks Graphics.) And the number of works of music and literature that we've reviewed that have this motif is amazing. Reviews of novels such as Jane Yolen's The Wild Hunt and Charles de Lint's Greenmantle, or music such as Steeleye Span's song 'The Wee Green Man' are clearly speaking of the Green Man, and show that Green Man is truly imbued with His Spirit. Come to think of it, even novels such as Emma Bull's The War for The Oaks are at least in part a riff off this motif!

So it's not surprising that my heart skipped a beat or two when a review copy of The Green Man was personally handed to me earlier today. It's a compact volume, barely 8.5 " by 5.5 ", but a hefty 375 pages in length. Think of it as a box that holds much more than you'd think to look at it -- much, much more. Oh, but it gets even better. All of the artwork is by Charles Vess, a man whose Green Men (and other artwork) is justifiably legendary. His artwork has graced, and I do mean graced, works ranging from the illustrated version of Neil Gaiman's Stardust to the forthcoming Charles de Lint novel, Seven Wild Sisters. I can't do his artwork full justice in words alone, so go visit his superb Web site to see how truly great his art is.

The wrap-around artwork, which naturally has green as its dominant color, features a cover of a wild wood that has a trail running through it that is also a Green Man as illustrated by a face with somewhat scary eyes. The back panel has just the eyes and a bit of the face -- it looks even scarier than the whole face! A simple listing of the contributors to the anthology fills out the back panel. The inside header illustrations by Vess are wonderful, as is the type, and even the cream colored paper is perfect. This is simply one of the best designed books I've ever seen!

(Need I say that Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling are among the finest of editors who ever put together an anthology? From their long-running Year's Best Fantasy & Horror to their series of modern retellings of fairy tales, they will always please the discriminating reader!)

Before we turn to the contributors and their more than adequate contributions, I must praise the introduction, "About the Green Man and Other Forest Lore," which in a mere 15 pages sets forth the history and myth of the Green Man, including why Lady Raglan in 1939 decided to create the name Green Man for beings who had been called foliate heads for centuries. A version of this essay appears on the Endicott Studio Web site here. It's worth reading before you purchase this anthology. Go read and then come back here. Now on to the stories and other cool stuff....

The Green Man starts off with a poem from Neil Gaiman titled 'Going Wodwo' which in five verses sums up the attempts of the narrator to be a wodwo, a Medieval wild man who lived in the woods. It reads like Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull could have included it on their English 'wild wood' album, Songs from The Wood! There are several other tasty pieces of poetry here, including Jane Yolen's 'Song of the Callieach Bheur' and Bill Lewis' 'Green Men'. (A callieach is a Scottish Banshee. Sort of. See what she says.) Each in its own compact way explores the roots and branches of the tangled Green Man mythos. But if you're after longer works of fiction, those are here too.

Shall we start with Emma Bull's superb tale, 'Joshua Tree', which explores the reality of the Green Man within the unlikely setting of the desert, or Charles de Lint's 'Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box', which incorporates, as he did in his Forests of the Heart novel, the green man within his Newford cycle?

Those don't suit your fancy? Well, you might want to read 'Ali Anugne o Chash (The Boy Who Was)', by Carolyn Dunn Anderson (Native American of Muscogee/Cherokee/Seminole heritage), which centers on the Deer Woman myth as understood by the Mississippi Choctaw people. (The author of this story notes on the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers Web site that she was told the title of this anthology was going to be Green Man, Green Woman. Cool title!) Of a slightly more adult nature is Jeffrey Ford's 'The Green Word', which, according to his Web site, is his 'story [that] deals with the mandrake legend to some extent, and from my reading of the folklore I learned that the mandrake grew at the base of the gallows from the ejaculations of hanged men. It is a fact that when a man is hung the snapping of the neck automatically causes him to ejaculate.' Interesting premise!

I've barely scratched the surface of the riches in Green Man. There are additional stories by Gregory Maguire of Wicked and Lost fame; Patricia A. McKillip, who has had many novels reviewed here on Green Man, including The Tower at Stony Wood; Midori Snyder, whose Fey in the Wild West novel The Flight of Michael McBride should be read by all lovers of fantasy; Tanith Lee, writer of really dark fantasies; and many others. Amazingly, everything is better than good, and most are simply fantastic. There's hours and hours of great reading here. Now excuse me as I'm off to read yet more of this great anthology. Hmmm... What shall I read next? Ahhh, that will do....

[Cat Eldridge]