Jane Yolen’s The Scarlet Circus is the latest short story collection by a masterful author. Among these “circus” titled volumes, this book deals in pieces where there is some romantic aspect to the tale. While there is a very nice little introduction by Brandon Sanderson, the piece by Jane Yolen explaining the logic behind the collection is the must read out of the material before the stories.
“Dusty Loves” is a fascinating turn that starts with a love story between a fairy and a ghost but steadily expands into something more filled with sorrow and hurt. Dealing with the nature of fair folk as tricksters in general depiction only expands this further, as a reader will see many of the dark twists to come based upon those facts. Following a fairy named Dusty as he meets and almost instantly falls in love with a pretty ghost named Julie, the facts of her tragic romance with a man she assumed dead called Roman lend greatly towards the trend of Yolen including reimagined and rethought classics into her stories.
It in the process looks at the question of vengence, and what that means in connection to love. The idea of stories overall, and how they often seem to be changed by experience, work very well for this piece indeed. A tragedy of one sort, told carefully, becoming decidedly a different type of tragedy with somewhat different takeaways. Furthermore the risky nature of love and the danger of taking irreconcilable action are dealt with, suggesting that throwing oneself at the first seemingly available escape from a problem or loss is not correct. In light of the arguable glorification that the William Shakespeare version of these characters have received, that’s a very good message.
“The Sword and the Stone” contains subject matter that is obvious on the face of the title. It deals with one Merlinnus attempting to convince the king for whom he works of a new solution he has involving the titular objects. A way he believes he can help to cement the man’s authority over the kingdom. The king feels that he is already given enough authority, and in the meantime is dealing with a wide variety of personal vendettas and well-meaning individuals working to marry him off. In the midst of this a surprisingly well educated young man named Gawen comes to the old wizard wanting to be made a knight, and an unexpected turn quickly moves towards this community.
Unlike the proceeding story, this one does take its time to at least briefly touch on homosexual attraction or action. It does so in a way that could be argued as uncomfortable, more in line with the ancient Romans than traditional love as defined in the present day. It is not a focus in any event, but that fact is an unusual one that bears noticing. Thoughts about the deceptive nature of images, and the importance of appearances are key to this particular tale. There is a delightful levity and humor to this story without ever crossing into parity or farce and a reminder of the ways talent can bring new interpretations to old ideas and stories.
As with any of this author’s work, The Scarlet Circus is well worth reading. Jane Yolen has proven again that she has talent to spare, this time with pieces focusing on the romances most would say she doesn’t tend to focus on. To any fan of her work this book is a must read, with plenty of new pieces added to the reprints. To those looking for some amusing and enjoyable compositions that touch upon love, it is well recommended.