shining the spotlight on short story collections
The Woman Who Loved the Moon and other stories
Berkley Fantasy (Now part of Penguin US), 1981
“I need your skills, and your strength. I need your knowledge of men. I need your guile, my traitor, and your deceit” (Wizard’s Domain)
I first read this collection when it was originally published back in 1981, an important year for me, coming out and on the lookout for (to be honest, any) books that were positive about lesbians. As a convinced fantasy enthusiast I fell on the work of Elizabeth A Lynn with delight. Thirty plus years later (long enough to have forgotten all but the general shape of the stories with the exception of the title story which haunted me for years), these stories have worn well, although I can see their faults more. Lynn does herself no favours with her introductory paragraphs, which I quickly learnt to avoid – best to dive straight in to the fantasy than to hear how come it took so long to find a publisher, or why she got saddled with a different title (although the variant titles thing is quite interesting!).
As with all collections there are strong stories and less convincing ones, and it is when Lynn sticks to fantasy that she is at her best – it is as though an outlandish setting gives her permission to explore psychological and emotional complexity. The horror stories (and some of the SF) in this collection are thin to the point of transparency, and feel thrown together, where the fantasies engage and challenge.
The first story in the collection, Wizard’s Domain, starts solidly with treachery and an inventive punishment followed by a forgiveness of the perceived crime, and the forgiveness of the punishment, which we are set up to not trust. Lynn puts her wizards through it: Magic is not easy, and she can be both lyrical and brutal. The Gods of Reorth is one of those ‘the natives think were gods but we are from another planet’ stories that feel very 50’s in content, but Lynn throws an unconventional spanner into the story with her indignant goddess/alien, who doesn’t see why she should do what the leaders back at home want for this planet, but hesitates too long and has to stand by and let her lover be killed. She gets a subtle, clever revenge. This is one of the best stories in the book.
We All Have To Go is a beastly bit of viciousness lambasting TV ghouls; it works quite well but I’ve read other stories that do it even more horribly effectively (Nobody Axed You by John Brunner for example). The Saints of Drimman takes an anthropologist exploring religious ecstasy one step too far, and I dream of a bird, I dream of a fish, is a moving bit of mother-love overcoming odds with casually plausible bio-science.
So far so strong, but then we get to the thinner work.
The Island is a throwaway ghost story, similar to so many others that it’s hardly worth listing them.
The Man who was Pregnant does what it says on the tin. Obsessions is another rather obvious throwaway story of arsonists. The Woman in the Phonebooth reads like a FoaF tale, and The Circus Who Disappeared is frankly tedious. The White King’s Dream is clever, but unpleasant.
Things pick back up with The Dragon Who Lived in the Sea, which makes an unexpected tragedy out of teaching fearlessness to a child; it’s a lovely, thoughtful story, chock full of tension and disappointment. Mindseye is another explorers-on-an-alien-world story, but it cleverly explores what we mean by human, and how open we can be to difference, or not. In Don’t Look at Me, a daughter uses sleight of hand to almost get away with murder, and you find yourself wishing she had. Jubilee’s Story (the original title Gimme Shelter was rejected by the publisher as obscure) throws in warring brothers, childbirth and abuse, and is one of those stories that leaves you wondering about what came before and what might come after.
The final and title story, The Woman Who Loved the Moon, brings together lots of mythological tropes: three sisters, goddesses peeved about being compared unfavourably to mortals, kingdoms under the hill where time moves differently, and magical mirrors. Lynn draws you in with the rhythms of the language and even though you are silently protesting this isn’t going to end well, don’t do it, Kai, Lynn allows you to believe it might – just – maybe, be possible to love the moon, and astonishingly be loved back. It is one of the saddest stories I’ve read, and while it doesn’t move me the way it did thirty years ago it deserved the Word Fantasy Award it won.
Read Wizard’s Domain here
About the reviewer: Cherry Potts has been reading (and writing) fantasy since discovering it aged about twelve. She is the author of two short story collections, Mosaic of Air and Tales Told Before Cockcrow, and the editor/ co-editor for Arachne Press of three anthologies: Lovers’ Lies, Stations and London Lies.