Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (editors): Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers

Marian McHugh is the author of this review.

As with all their anthologies, Datlow and Windling have created another masterpiece with Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers. In this collection they have brought together both the well-known and not-so-well-known authors and had them create “erotic tales of magical, obsessional, and irresistible love.” From authors such as Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Ellen Kushner, Pat Murphy and Joyce Carol Oates we are given a chance to see another side of their writing, for many a much darker side than we are normally used to seeing. Don’t forget to read the introduction where Terri Windling provides a little bit of background history to erotica in fairy tales.

These stories cover a wide range of the faery motif, for example, Little Red Riding Hood in Tanith Lee’s “Wolfed” – definitely not the version I heard as a child. Then there is Ellen Stieber’s tale “In the Season of Rains,” which combines the folk tales of Mexican-American folk tales with with Hebrew stories. Of course, the Sidhe are not forgotten and appear in a number of stories, including “A Wife of Acorn, Leaf, and Rain” by Dave Smeds.

What these stories do is retrieve the sexual element, which was always a part of folk tales until quite recently, and place it back where it belongs. None of these stories bear any resemblance to the fairy tales I read as a child, many of which were bland, moral tales. Instead, in this anthology, the folk tale has been placed firmly back in the domain of the adult. They are definitely not for the faint-hearted; if you do not enjoy reading erotica, then you may be offended by many of these tales. However, if you are willing to delve into what many see as the dark side of human nature, that which is just as much a part of us as eating and breathing, then you will enjoy what Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers has to offer.

The story I had to read first was “Persephone or, Why the Winters Seem to Be Getting Longer” by Wendy Froud. Knowing of Wendy Froud as a sculptor and designer but not as a writer, I was very intrigued to read this retelling of the ancient Greek tale. I followed this story very quickly with a reading of Neil Gaiman’s “Tastings”, a very interesting version of mind reading, which sent shivers up my spine. Then I behaved myself and read the introduction and each of the stories in turn.

If I had to pick two favourites I think they would be Ellen Stieber’s “In the Season of Rains” and Dave Smeds’s “A Wife of Acorn, Leaf, and Rain”. “In the Season of Rain” evokes very strong imagery of the Arizona desert, so strong, in fact, that I was able to visualize each of the scenes clearly in my mind. It is the story of Enrico, a man who will never allow any woman to take his heart, and what befalls him when he meets la llorona, also known in Hebrew as Lilith. The only thing that saves Enrico is the love of his abuelila (grandmother) and so his fate is not quite so bad as it might have been.

“A Wife of Acorn, Leaf, and Rain” is the story of widower Jordan Welles who has not come to terms with the sudden death of his wife, Veronique. He believes the best way to do this is to hire one of the Outsiders as a foxwife. The Outsiders are a group of Sidhe who have been banished from Faery and are trying to make a life for themselves in the world of men. Slowly Jordan’s foxwife allows him to come to terms with his loss and brings him to the realization that he will eventually love again even though he never wanted anyone other than Veronique while they were married.

I found Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers to be yet another first class anthology from the editorship of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I never hesitate to buy an anthology with either of these names on the cover because I know that I will have the chance to read first rate stories. I don’t admit to liking every story in the anthology as there were some which I didn’t enjoy, but overall I found the standard of writing to be very high. I believe that these anthologies are slowly reintroducing the short story to mainstream readers who are tiring of those epic trilogies and just enjoy a story that can be completed in one sitting. I highly recommend this anthology to all readers.

(Harper Prism, 1998; Open Road Media, 2012)  

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