From the Editor’s Desk
"I was a very ancient twelve. My views at that age would have done credit to a Civil War veteran. I’m much younger now than I was at twelve or anyway, less burdened. The weight of centuries lies on children. I’m sure of it."
— Flannery O’Connor
Welcome to our Summer 2007 issue, where we’re focused on mythic fiction for Young Adult readers. What’s special about this issue is that it contains thirteen short stories, rather than our usual two or three, along with our regular mix of nonfiction, art, and poetry.Some of our contributing authors are well known for YA fiction, others are better known for adult work, and two of them are talented new writers who are still in their teens themselves.
We have new stories for you by Celia Bell, Steve Berman, Holly Black, Gwenda Bond, Elizabeth Genco, O.R. Melling, Will Shetterly, and Catherynne M. Valente, along with a lovely fairy tale by Jessie Suk Roy that we’ve held over from the last issue. We’ve also includedtwo reprint stories by Christopher Barzak and Ellen Steiber — both of which originally appeared in adult venues, but which deserve attention here as excellent examples of mythic fiction with Young Adult themes.And finally, there are two small tales contributed by Midori and me.
The stories range from fables to re–told fairy tales; from fantasy to contemporary realism; from stories rooted in specific cultural myths to those that weave new mythologies out of the colored threads of the old. We have fairies in the city, jaguars in the suburbs,and forests sprouting from a schoolgirl’s hair. We have Irish myth, Greek myth, Guatemalan folklore, elementals, and Gingerbread Men.
How, then, are we defining mythic fiction? "The simplest and best definition," writes Young Adult librarian and literary critic Julie Bartel, "is fiction that draws essential substance from myth, folklore, fairy tale, and legend. The conscious use of mythic themes and tropes — that is, elements and language thatreflect either figurative or literal use of images, symbols, and metaphors from myth and folklore — is the key ingredient,allowing authors to explore realistic themes on a symbolic level. As in much of the best fantastic literature, the strength of mythic fiction lies in the metaphorical foundations of the story, and in the writer’s use of timeless motifs to comment on or illuminate contemporary life. Drawing upon material that has inspired for thousands of yearsgives writers a voice in the continuing conversation which tries to make sense of the humanexperience, and adds resonance and depth to mythic fiction."
In her essay "Ancient Dreams", novelist O.R. Melling explains Young Adult fantasy in terms that apply equally well to the mythic fiction form: "At the heart’s core of fantasy literature lies the infinite possibility of dreams. Whether it presents alternate worldsin outer or inner space, alternate forms of life beyond humanity, alternate realities beyond our own, this genre speaks not to the limited self but to the limitless spirit. The well from which it draws its inspiration — be it established myth or the capacity for myth–making — is that which Joseph Campbell calls ‘the lost forgotten living waters of the inexhaustible source.’ "
She goes on to point out that this kind of literature "is often considered to be simply a form of escapist fiction. Firstly I do not feel that ‘escaping’ is necessarily valueless in itself. As anyone who needs a holiday will attest, escaping can be a form of psychological and psychic regeneration as necessary as sleep. But I would also maintain that anything which encourages dreamsand aspirations of a better self or a better world, anything which ‘comforts noble hearts,’ is hardly an escape from reality.Rather, it can be an aid to survival and a source of strength, as well as a possible vehicle for improvement. And, as Tolkien pointed out, ‘a living mythology can deepen rather than cloud our vision of reality.’ . . . I would say of modern mythical fantasies that they reflect the same universality as their traditional forbears. For they, too, echo with ‘ancient dreams,’ the unconscious knowledgeof what it has always been to be human, all the wonder and horror of our existence, and all the yearning and hope for something better."
The essays in this issue look at "ancient dreams" in Young Adult fiction from several points of view. Colleen Mondor examines "history as myth" in her discussion of Geraldine McCaughrean’s YA novel The White Darkness. Virginia Borges reflects on The Little Mermaid — both the Disney film and the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale — and wonderswhat precisely this story is saying to girls and young women today. I follow the archetype of the "orphan hero" back from Harry Potter to early legend and myth; while Julie Bartel defines "YA mythic fiction" (in the essay I quoted from above) and Helen Pilinovsky reflects on her adolescence as a lover of fairy tales.
In the Gallery, we present "Magic x Four," an exhibition of four magical works by four artists who come from four different countries: Julia Jeffrey (Scotland), Lisa Linnéa (Sweden), Natalia Pierandrei (Italy), and Kelly Louise Judd (USA). Other artists who have contributed to the issue include Theo Black, Brian Froud, James Graham, Stu Jenks, Marja Lee Kruÿt, Leland Purvis, Greg Spalenka and Charles Vess.
In the Crossroads, in a hilarious and hard–to–categorize piece of writing, Jeffrey Ford tells us a few things about ants — along with a few other things about childhood obsession. And in the Coffeeehouse, there are mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters, lovers, heroes, and heroines in mythic poems by Margarita Engle, Nan Fry, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Neil Gaiman, and others. Information on all of the writersand artists who kindly contributed to this issue can be found at the bottom of this page.
We hope you enjoy our Summer YA fiction issue. It’s specially dedicated to all teenage readers of this Journal and the Endicott blog. (Thank you for being part of Endicott!) It’s also dedicated to YA librarians, with gratitude for all you do. And to adult readers who haven’t yet forgotten what being a teen is like. . .
Thanks for dropping by the Endicott Studio.
Contributors, Summer 2007
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Jessie Suk Roy
Catherynne M. Valente
Kelly Louise Judd
Marja Lee Kruÿt