Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Yolen, Jane

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(1939-    ) US writer and editor, best-known for her children's books, especially Children's Fantasy, of which she also became a publisher with her own YA imprint, Jane Yolen Books, for Harcourt Brace (1990-1996). She has written or compiled over 130 books since Pirates in Petticoats (1963), nonfiction about women pirates, and See This Little Line (graph 1963), a picture book in rhyme, both for children. Most of her work is fantasy, but it includes volumes of poetry, music books, picture-books, new and revisionist Fairytales, YA novels and studies of children's literature.

Much of JY's work is short fiction, and some of her novels are in episodic form. The Magic Three of Solatia (1974), her earliest children's book also to appeal to adults, is a sequence of four novellas tracing the impact of three magic buttons (> Talismans) on a group of people and how the power must be faced and controlled. JY has mastered the fairytale form like no other modern writer, capturing the essence of folk tradition and presenting it for modern readers. Such stories have been collected as The Girl who Cried Flowers and Other Tales (coll 1974 chap), The Moon Ribbon and Other Tales (coll 1977 chap), The Hundredth Dove and Other Tales (coll 1977 chap), Dream Weaver (coll 1979 chap), Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk (coll 1982), Tales of Wonder (coll 1983), The Whitethorn Wood and Other Magicks (coll 1984 chap), Dragonfield and Other Stories (anth 1985); The Faery Flag (coll 1989), Storyteller (coll 1992), Here There Be Dragons (coll 1993), Here There Be Unicorns (coll 1994), Here There Be Witches (coll 1995) and Here There Be Angels (coll 1996). Individual short stories, excluding those intended for very young children, have also been published as The Girl who Loved the Wind (1972 chap), The Boy who Had Wings (1974 chap), The Lady and the Merman (1979 chap) and The Sword and the Stone (1985 F&SF; 1991 chap). JY has also retold the original fairytale of Sleeping Beauty as The Sleeping Beauty (1986 chap) and humorously twisted it as Sleeping Ugly (1981 chap), and has retold the ballad of Tam Lin in Tam Lin (1990 chap). JY's closest rivals – Diana Wynne Jones, Tanith Lee and Patricia McKillip – are, because first and foremost fantasists, seldom able to approach the Twice-Told form of Story that JY has made her own.

JY's longer works take various forms. The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms (1978) is about a deaf girl and a wordless Mermaid who become friends through sign language. The Wild Hunt (1995) retells the Wild-Hunt legend but in an Alternate World. Briar Rose (1992) is a powerful retelling of the Sleeping-Beauty tale, transposed to World War II, where a young Jewish girl is gassed but is revived by the kiss of life. The Holocaust was also the setting for the Timeslip novel The Devil's Arithmetic (1988).

With the Great Alta sequence – Sister Light, Sister Dark (1988) and White Jenna (1989), assembled as The Book of Great Alta (omni 1990) – JY's fiction took on mythic proportions. Again she chose an episodic format to build varying perspectives of the events. Jenna is a young girl who begins to live the prophecy that states she will become the Messiah. The book has much in common with the Dune series by Frank Herbert (1920-1986), but JY uses her narrative skills to allow the reader to question the real status of Jenna and to contrast the shadowy layers of Good and Evil.

JY sometimes uses other planets as settings for her stories, but these are only tokenly sf. The Pit Dragon trilogy – Dragon's Blood (1982), Heart's Blood (1984) and A Sending of Dragons (1987) – is set on a penal planet where Dragons are essential to the economy. Cards of Grief (1984), also set on an alien world, is a homage to the storytelling art and its place in the development of culture and civilization.

Merlin's Booke (coll of linked stories 1986) brings together an idiosyncratic collection of poems and stories about Merlin from his youth to his old age, each reflecting a different aspect of his life. JY returned to the world of King Arthur in The Dragon's Boy (1990), the children's book Merlin and the Dragons (1995 chap) – retelling the story of Merlin and the fate of Vortigern – and the YA anthology Camelot (anth 1995). She also wrote the Young Merlin trilogy, Passager (1996 chap), Hobby (1996) and Merlin (1997); while she retains the core of the Merlin myth, her treatment of events is often far from orthodox.

JY is one of the leading storytellers of the 20th century. [MA]

other works (excluding titles for the very young): The Witch who Wasn't (1964); Gwinellen, the Princess who Could Not Sleep (1965 chap); The Emperor and the Kite (1968 chap); The Wizard of Washington Square (1969); The Seventh Mandarin (1970); The Transfigured Hart (1975); The Boy who Spoke Chimp (1981); Brothers of the Wind (1981); Children of the Wolf (1984); Wizard's Hall (1991); very many others.

as editor: Zoo 2000 (anth 1973); Shape Shifters (anth 1978); Dragons & Dreams (anth 1986) and Spaceships and Spells (anth 1987), these two with Martin H Greenberg and Charles G Waugh; Favourite Folktales from Around the World (anth 1986); 2041 ad (anth 1991); and, with Greenberg, Werewolves (anth 1988), Things That Go Bump in the Night (anth 1989), Vampires (anth 1991), the Xanadu series – Xanadu (anth 1993), #2 (anth 1994) and #3 (anth 1995) – and The Haunted House (anth 1995 chap).

Nonfiction: The Wizard Islands (1973); Writing Books for Children (1973; rev 1983); Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood (1981); Guide to Writing for Children (1989).

Jane Hyatt Yolen


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.