Author Jane Yolen speaks to the ancient magic within us all in this anthology of 30 grown-up fairy stories—lovely, lyrical, poignant, sometimes frightening tales of transformations and transfigurations, magical destinies and dangerous quests, strange visions, reawakenings, and just desserts. A past winner of the Nebula Award, World Fantasy Award, and numerous other honors, Yolen takes her rightful place alongside the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, combining innovative literary style with fables that reimagine the myths of old and some of her legendary predecessors’ most cherished characters: Cinderella, simple Jack, Guinevere, Icarus, and the Frog Prince.
Step into Yolen’s wondrous realm of magic and dreams, where a curious young woman’s desire to read the future leads her to the weaver of tomorrow; a farm boy with the voice of an angel seeks out Lady Death to sing for the life of his mother; and a sow, a cow, and a mare set out together to see the world. These timeless stories tell of an eager girl’s entrance into the Hall of Grief and a sunless prince who fears the vengeance of a jealous star. A tree-bound young dryad longs to dance in the spring, and a grumpy old potter pours his heart and soul into his greatest work. Yolen’s stories are unforgettable tales of the heart and the spirit; they are truly tales of wonder.
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About the Author
Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.
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Tales of Wonder
By Jane Yolen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Jane Yolen
All rights reserved.
The Pot Child
There was once an ill-humored potter who lived all alone and made his way by shaping clay into cups and bowls and urns. His pots were colored with the tones of the earth, and on their sides he painted all creatures excepting man.
"For there was never a human I liked well enough to share my house and my life with," said the bitter old man.
But one day, when the potter was known throughout the land for his sharp tongue as well as his pots, and so old that even death might have come as a friend, he sat down and on the side of a large bisque urn he drew a child.
The child was without flaw in the outline, and so the potter colored in its form with earth glazes: rutile for the body and cobalt blue for the eyes. And to the potter's practiced eye, the figure on the pot was perfect.
So he put the pot into the kiln, closed up the door with bricks, and set the flame.
Slowly the fires burned. And within the kiln the glazes matured and turned their proper tones.
It was a full day and a night before the firing was done. And a full day and a night before the kiln had cooled. And it was a full day and a night before the old potter dared unbrick the kiln door. For the pot child was his masterpiece, of this he was sure.
At last, though, he could put it off no longer. He took down the kiln door, reached in, and removed the urn.
Slowly he felt along the pot's side. It was smooth and still warm. He set the pot on the ground and walked around it, nodding his head as he went.
The child on the pot was so lifelike, it seemed to follow him with its lapis eyes. Its skin was a pearly yellow-white, and each hair on its head like beaten gold.
So the old potter squatted down before the urn, examining the figure closely, checking it for cracks and flaws, but there were none. He drew in his breath at the child's beauty and thought to himself, "There is one I might like well enough." And when he expelled his breath again, he blew directly on the image's lips.
At that, the pot child sighed and stepped off the urn.
This so startled the old man that he fell back into the dust.
After a while, though, the potter saw that the pot child was waiting for him to speak. So he stood up and in a brusque tone said, "Well, then, come here. Let me look at you."
The child ran over to him and, ignoring his tone, put its arms around his waist and whispered, "Father," in a high sweet voice.
This so startled the old man that he was speechless for the first time in his life. And as he could not find the words to tell the child to go, it stayed. Yet after a day, when he had found the words, the potter knew he could not utter them, for the child's perfect face and figure had enchanted him.
When the potter worked or ate or slept, the child was by his side, speaking when spoken to but otherwise still. It was a pot child, after all, and not a real child. It did not join him in his work but was content to watch. When other people came to the old man's shop, the child stepped back onto the urn and did not move. Only the potter knew it was alive.
One day several famous people came to the potter's shop. He showed them all around, grudgingly, touching one pot and then another. He answered their questions in a voice that was crusty and hard. But they knew his reputation and did not answer back.
At last they came to the urn.
The old man stood before it and sighed. It was such an uncharacteristic sound that the people looked at him strangely. But the potter did not notice. He simply stood for a moment more, then said, "This is the Pot Child. It is my masterpiece. I shall never make another one so fine."
He moved away, and one woman said after him, "It is good." But turning to her companions, she added in a low voice, "But it is too perfect for me."
A man with her agreed. "It lacks something," he whispered back.
The woman thought a moment. "It has no heart," she said. "That is what is wrong."
"It has no soul," he amended.
They nodded at each other and turned away from the urn. The woman picked out several small bowls, and, paying for them, she and the others went away.
No sooner were the people out of sight than the pot child stepped down from the urn.
"Father," the pot child asked, "what is a heart?"
"A vastly overrated part of the body," said the old man gruffly. He turned to work the clay on his wheel.
"Then," thought the pot child, "I am better off without one." It watched as the clay grew first tall and then wide between the potter's knowing palms. It hesitated asking another question, but at last could bear it no longer.
"And what is a soul, Father?" said the pot child. "Why did you not draw one on me when you made me on the urn?"
The potter looked up in surprise. "Draw one? No one can draw a soul."
The child's disappointment was so profound, the potter added, "A man's body is like a pot, which does not disclose what is inside. Only when the pot is poured, do we see its contents. Only when a man acts, do we know what kind of soul he has."
The pot child seemed happy with that explanation, and the potter went back to his work. But over the next few weeks the child continually got in his way. When the potter worked the clay, the pot child tried to bring him water to keep the clay moist. But it spilled the water, and the potter pushed the child away.
When the potter carried the unfired pots to the kiln, the pot child tried to carry some, too. But it dropped the pots, and many were shattered. The potter started to cry out in anger, bit his tongue, and was still.
When the potter went to fire the kiln, the pot child tried to light the flame. Instead, it blew out the fire.
At last the potter cried, "You heartless thing. Leave me to do my work. It is all I have. How am I to keep body and soul together when I am so plagued by you?"
At these words, the pot child sat down in the dirt, covered its face, and wept. Its tiny body heaved so with its sobs that the potter feared it would break in two. His crusty old heart softened, and he went over to the pot child and said, "There, child. I did not mean to shout so. What is it that ails you?"
The pot child looked up. "Oh, my father, I know I have no heart. But that is a vastly overrated part of the body. Still, I was trying to show how I was growing a soul."
The old man looked startled for a minute, but then, recalling their conversation of many weeks before, he said, "My poor pot child, no one can grow a soul. It is there from birth." He touched the child lightly on the head.
The potter had meant to console the child, but at that the child cried even harder than before. Drops sprang from its eyes and ran down its cheeks like blue glaze. "Then I shall never have a soul," the pot child cried. "For I was not born but made."
Seeing how the child suffered, the old man took a deep breath. And when he let it out again, he said, "Child, as I made you, now I will make you a promise. When I die, you shall have my soul, for then I shall no longer need it."
"Oh, then I will be truly happy," said the pot child, slipping its little hand gratefully into the old man's. It did not see the look of pain that crossed the old man's face. But when it looked up at him and smiled, the old man could not help but smile back.
That very night, under the watchful eyes of the pot child, the potter wrote out his will. It was a simple paper, but it took a long time to compose, for words did not come easily to the old man. Yet as he wrote, he felt surprisingly lightened. And the pot child smiled at him all the while. At last, after many scratchings out, it was done. The potter read the paper aloud to the pot child.
"It is good," said the pot child. "You do not suppose I will have long to wait for my soul?"
The old man laughed. "Not long, child."
And then the old man slept, tired after the late night's labor. But he had been so busy writing, he had forgotten to bank his fire, and in the darkest part of the night, the flames went out.
In the morning the shop was ice cold, and so was the old man. He did not waken, and without him the pot child could not move from its shelf.
Later in the day, when the first customers arrived, they found the old man. And beneath his cold fingers lay a piece of paper that said:
When I am dead, place my body in my kiln and light the flames. And when I am nothing but ashes, let those ashes be placed inside the Pot Child. For I would be one, body and soul, with the earth I have worked.
So it was done as the potter wished. And when the kiln was opened up, the people of the town placed the ashes in the ice-cold urn.
At the touch of the hot ashes, the pot cracked: once across the breast of the child, and two small fissures under its eyes.
"What a shame," said the people to one another on seeing that. "We should have waited until the ashes cooled."
Yet the pot was still so beautiful, and the old potter so well known, that the urn was placed at once in a museum. Many people came to gaze on it.
One of those was the woman who had seen the pot that day so long ago at the shop.
"Why, look," she said to her companions. "It is the pot the old man called his masterpiece. It is good. But I like it even better now with those small cracks."
"Yes," said one of her companions, "it was too perfect before."
"Now the pot child has real character" said the woman. "It has ... heart."
"Yes," added the same companion, "it has soul."
And they spoke so loudly that all the people around them heard. The story of their conversation was printed and repeated throughout the land, and everyone who went by the pot stopped and murmured, as if part of a ritual, "Look at that pot child. It has such heart. It has such soul."CHAPTER 2
They call me the nameless one. My mother was the sea, and the sun itself fathered me. I was born fully clothed, and on my boyish cheeks was the beginnings of a beard. Whoever I was, wherever I came from, had been washed from me by the waves in which I was found.
And so I have made many pasts for myself. A honey-colored mother cradling me. A father with his beard short and shaped like a Minoan spade. Sisters and brothers have I gifted myself. And a home that smelled of fresh-strewn reeds and olives ripening on the trees. Sometimes I make myself a king's son, godborn, a javelin in my hand and a smear of honeycake on my lips. Other times I am a craftsman's child, with a length of golden string threaded around my thumbs. Or the son of a dmos, a serf, my back bent over the furrows where little birds search for seeds like farmers counting the crop. With no remembered pasts, I can pick a different one each day to suit my mood, to cater to my need.
But most of the time I think myself the child of the birds, for when the fishermen pulled me up from the sea, drowned of my past, I clutched a single feather in my hand. The feather was golden — sun-colored — and when it dried it was tufted with yellow rays. I carried it with me always, my talisman, my token back across the Styx. No one knew what bird had carried this feather in its wing or tail. The shaft is strong and white, and the barbs soft. The little fingers of down are no color at all; they change with the changing light.
So I am no-name, son of no-bird, pulled from the waters of the sea north and east of Delos, too far for swimming, my only sail the feather in my hand.
The chief of the fishermen who rescued me was a morose man called Talos who would have spoken more had he no tongue at all. But he was a good man, for all that he was silent. He gave me advice but once, and had I listened then, I would not be here now, in a cold, dark cavern listening to voices from my remembered past and fearing the rising of the sun.
When Talos plucked me from the water, he wrung me out with hands that were horned from work. He made no comment at all about my own hands, whose softness the water-wrinkles could not disguise. He brought me home to his childless wife. She spread honey balm on my burns, for my back and right side were seared as if I had been drawn from the flames instead of from the sea. The puckered scars along my side are still testimony to that fire. Talos was convinced I had come from the wreckage of a burning ship, though no sails or spars were ever found. But the only fire I could recall was red and round as the sun.
Of fire and water was I made, Talos' wife said. Her tongue ran before her thoughts always. She spoke twice, once for herself and once for her speechless husband. "Of sun and sea, my only child," she would say, fondly stroking my wine-dark hair, touching the feather I kept pinned to my chiton. "Bird–child. A gift of the sky, a gift from the sea."
So I stayed with them. Indeed, where else could I — still a boy — go? And they were content. Except for the scar seaming my side, I was thought handsome. And my fingers were clever with memories of their own. They could make things of which I had no conscious knowledge: miniature buildings of strange design, with passages that turned back upon themselves; a mechanical bull — man that could move about and roar when wound with a hand-carved key.
"Fingers from the gods," Talos' wife said. "Such fingers. Your father must have been Hephaestus, though you have Apollo's face." And she added god after god to my siring, a litany that comforted her until Talos' warning grunt stemmed the rising tide of her words.
At last my good looks and my clever fingers brought me to the attention of the local lord. I, the nameless one, the child of sun and sea and sky. That lord was called Circinus. He had many slaves, and many servants, but only one daughter, Perdix.
She was an ox-eyed beauty, with a long neck. Her slim, boyish body and her straight, narrow nose reminded me somehow of my time before the waves, though I could not quite say how. Her name was sighed from every man's lips, but no one dared speak it aloud.
Lord Circinus asked for my services and, reluctantly, Talos and his wife let me go. He merely nodded a slow acceptance. She wept all over my shoulder before I left, a second drowning. But I, eager to show Lord Circinus my skills, paid them scant attention.
It was then that Talos unlocked his few words for me.
"Do not fly too high, my son," he said. And, like his wife, repeated himself: "Do not fly too high."
He meant Perdix, of course, for he had seen my eyes on her. But I was just newly conscious of my body's desires. I could not — did not — listen.
That was how I came into Lord Circinus' household, bringing nothing but the clothes I wore, the feather of my past, and the strange talent that lived in my hands. In Lord Circinus' house, I was given a sleeping room and a workroom, and leave to set the pattern of my days.
Work was my joy and my excuse. I began simply, making clay-headed dolls with wooden trunks and jointed limbs, testing out the tools that Circinus gave me. But soon I moved away from such childish things, and constructed a dancing floor of such intricately mazed panels of wood that I was rewarded with a pocket of gold.
I never looked boldly upon the lady Perdix. It was not my place. But I glanced sideways, from the corners of my eyes. And somehow she must have known. For it was not long before she found my workroom and came to tease me with her boy's body and quick tongue. Like my stepfather Talos, I had no magic in my answers, only in my fingers, and Perdix always laughed at me twice: once for my slow speech and once for the quick flush that burned my cheeks after each exchange.
I recall the first time she came upon me, as I worked on a mechanical bird that could fly in short bursts toward the sun. She entered the workroom and stood by my side watching for a while. Then she put her right hand over mine. I could feel the heat from her hand burn me, all the way up my arm, though this burning left no visible scar.
"My lady," I said. So I had been instructed to address her. She was a year younger than I. "It is said that a woman should wait upon a man's moves."
"If that were so," she answered swiftly, "all women would be called Penelope. But I would have woven a different ending to that particular tale." She laughed. "Too much waiting, without an eye upon her, makes a maid mad."
Her wordy cleverness confounded me and I blushed. But she lifted her hand from mine and, still laughing, left the room.
It was a week before she returned. I did not even hear her enter, but when I turned around she was sitting on the floor with her skirts rolled halfway up her thighs. Her tanned legs flashed unmistakable signals at me that I dared not answer.
"Do you think it better to wait for a god or wait upon a man?" she asked, as if a week had not come between her last words and these.
I mumbled something about a man having but one form and a god many, and concluded lamely that perhaps, then, waiting for a god would be more interesting.
"Oh, yes," she said, "many girls have waited for a god to come. But not I. Men can be made gods, you know."
I did not know, and confessed it.
"My cousin Danaë," she said, "said that great Zeus had come into her lap in a shower of gold. But I suspect it was a more mundane lover. After all, it has happened many times before that a man has showered gold into a girl's skirts and she opens her legs to him. That does not make him a god, or his coming gold." She laughed that familiar low laugh and added under her breath, "Cousin Danaë always did have a quick answer for her mistakes."
Excerpted from Tales of Wonder by Jane Yolen. Copyright © 1983 Jane Yolen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: The Bright Ring of Words,
The Pot Child,
The Moon Ribbon,
The Sleep of Trees,
Boris Chernevsky's Hands,
In the Hall of Grief,
Cards of Grief,
The White Seal Maid,
The Bird of Time,
The Weaver of Tomorrow,
The Boy Who Sang for Death,
The Lady and the Merman,
Wild Goose and Gander,
The Boy Who Had Wings,
The Girl Who Loved the Wind,
Brothers of the Wind,
The Golden Balls,
The Sow, the Mare, and the Cow,
Brother Kenan's Bell,
The Seventh Mandarin,
The Soul Fisher,
One Old Man, with Seals,
Sister Light, Sister Dark,
A Personal History by Jane Yolen,