It’s not often that I completely fall in love with an author’s work these days, especially in such a short period of time. Or consume book after book by the same person over the course of less than a week. But I haven’t been able to stop reading Jane Yolen since Tuesday and my supply is about to run out and I just needed to tell you all how great she is. I’ve now, firmly, put Yolen up there among my favourite living authors.
As you can tell, I am very excited by this discovery. I’m just wondering why it took so long. Yolen lies nestled right in the “Newbery Era” with her most famous works, though she’s still alive, still writing and still producing quality books while most of the authors from back then have undergone critical existence failure. I do distinctly remember reading A Sending of Dragons back in Elementary School—which I thought was great—but it wasn’t until a late-night Skype conversation with Marie a few months ago that I connected A Sending of Dragons with Yolen’s name. I tried finding the rest of the Pit Dragon trilogy but the public library didn’t have any of the other books. So it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I obtained a copy of Heart’s Blood in a chance book find, one which involved shuffling through six boxes of discarded science fiction and fantasy novels for classics I’d been searching ages for, that I finally came back in contact with Yolen.
While Heart’s Blood was in the middle of the Pit Dragon trilogy, I hadn’t read Dragon’s Blood and I’m supposedly too old for this sort of book, I loved it. I loved every moment of Jakken’s and Akki’s travails on the arid, far-off world of Austar IV where dragons fight in gladiatorial battles for the entertainment of star ship crews. It was one of those “happy books”—not necessarily deep or meaningful but just an absolute joy to read. So I discussed this with a friend and she lent me a stack on Jane Yolen’s books on Tuesday…and there’s only one left to read now, which makes me sad.
Because Yolen is more than a writer of “happy books”, she’s a writer of great breadth who has an innate understanding of myth, legend and fairy tale, a writer who writes with subtlety and humour, at times, a writer of great beauty. Not just the fun writer I’d found in Heart’s Blood and on re-reading A Sending of Dragons (though that, in itself, is a great accomplishment). My opinion started to increase with Briar Rose, a rather sober counter-point to what I’d read from Yolen before it. A story of a grandmother who came to interpret her experiences at the Chełmno death camp during the Second World War through the tale of Sleeping Beauty (AKA Briar Rose), and the granddaughter who uncovered the truth behind the fairy tale. It’s haunting and layered and yet so simple, an exploration of Holocaust memory both personal and collective; at once distant, and intimate, and after my sour experience with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, proof once more that fiction can be an effective lens through which to view the Holocaust.
I’m also greatly impressed by Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories, a collection of twenty-eight stories spanning twenty years of work. I don’t remember the last time I read an anthology straight from cover to cover without skipping a single story, but I did this time. Standouts include “Lost Girls”, an interrogation of Peter Pan’s gender politics, and the titular “Sister Emily’s Lightship”, which you could just as well call “The Adventures of Emily Dickinson in Outer Space” and…well, I don’t really have to explain why that’s awesome, do I? There were some stories I didn’t care for, but when the grand total of disliked stories equals two in a collection of this many stories, it’s not much of a complaint. This is the best anthology I’ve read in a long time.
There are other books, but I hope this sampling explains my enthusiasm. If you haven’t already, go forth ye and read Jane Yolen, for ye shall be much pleased.