Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Wolford (ed.), Mothers of Enchantment (2022)

Kate Wolford (ed.), Mothers of Enchantment: New Tales of Fairy Godmothers. World Weaver Press, 2022. Pp. 217. ISBN 978-1-7340-5456-9. $15.95 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

The best part of fairy tales for me isn’t the reversal of fortunes or the justice delivered. For me, it’s always been the slantwise magic that follows rules we can’t see—an early form of magical realism wherein the burdened and despairing characters find relief. This wild magic often arrived in the form of a fairy godmother, subverting the ill-fated mothers and scary stepmothers sprinkled like blood stains over the pages. The fairy godmother feels deserved and arbitrary at the same time, allowing a reader centuries in the future to believe that they, too, might one day be magicked into a gorgeous gown and a happily ever after. And as Wolford points out in her introduction, “many people transform our lives with simple generosity and kindness.” We all have that magic within us.

The twelve stories in Mothers of Enchantment range from classic folklore to modern fantasy. Retellings can be tricky to pull off, but each one in this group comes with a smart or sensitive spin pulling the reader in with a unique point of view.

The collection begins with a sweetly tender tale of Mei-Jin making wishes for her unborn child. Instead of being punished for her compassion, Michelle Tang’s story, “Wishes to Heaven,” rewards this mother-to-be and shows how gentle ancestral faith brings long-term solutions. In “A Story of Soil and Stardust” by Kelly Jarvis we are taken to Russia for a complex and lyrical folktale about the burdens of societal expectations and the thin reward for compliance. Here, Baba Yaga makes an appearance, and she’s about as enchanting a godmother as you’d imagine. “Better you should learn to help yourselves,” she’d hiss at them. Not every fairy tale has a happily ever after, but I suppose it depends on how you define happiness. My third favorite of the twelve puts a new twist on the old classic. “Modern Magic” by Carter Lappin gives us a fairy godmother scrolling on her phone while she waits for a rainbow unicorn frappe. She is by turns witty and snarky, exactly as you’d expect from the 21st century version of the archetype. I can’t say I liked her, but she got the job done.

And what about godfathers? “My Last Curse” by Elise Forier Edie explains why we never see them. This tale was a little too cynical and misandrist for my tastes, but the clever viewpoint of the fairy godmothers from Sleeping Beauty kept me entertained. In one of the more elegant reversals, Sonni de Soto’s “Face in the Mirror,” gives us Beauty and the Beast, but from the point of view of the fairy who cursed the prince. Despite the predictability, the story flows with authentic emotion and hooks the reader with the need to see justice and empathy prevail. Similarly, “In the Name of Gold” by Claire Noelle Thomas, we are given the fairy’s view from Rumpelstiltskin. No good deed goes unpunished, and promises can’t be broken. I appreciated the cultural divide and how this set up the conflict of miscommunication.

There are two versions of Pinocchio, both with completely new ideas and twists. I especially enjoyed the idea of a glassblower rather than a carpenter by Abi Marie Palmer in “The Venetian Glass Girl.” A child must have some kind of heart. I wanted to read more about the world Palmer had developed when it was done.

I found the stories involving apprentice godmothers to be less enchanting. These felt uneven in writing quality and focus and didn’t satisfy my desire for wish fulfillment that comes with the promise of a fairy godmother. I think the difference for me might be the age of the characters, and a younger audience might find them more relatable and enjoyable. Wolford has curated a blend of old and new with a focus not only on compassion, but on paying it forward. Overall, this is an eclectic anthology with a fairy godmother for every kind of wish.

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