In "Possession," Byatt created two wonderful Victorian characters, Randolphe Ash and Christabel La Motte, both writers. Two of the fairy tales contained in this collection of Byatt originals, "The Glass Coffin," and "Gode's Story," are the work of "Ash" and "La Motte." This is not to say that a reader will not enjoy them if he or she has not read "Possession." It only means that he will not derive the maxiumum amount of enjoyment from the stories.
The other two stories, "The Story of the Eldest Princess" and "Dragons' Breath," as well as the title novella, are meditations on the art of storytelling and all are very good. "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye," in particular, is excellent. The only thing I didn't like about some of these stories, "The Story of the Eldest Princess," especially, is the thread of feminisim that runs through them. But, on further reflection, I suppose that is typical of all fairy tales, to some extent.
"The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye," tells the tale of a modern day storyteller who loves to meditate on the tales of Scheherazade. It is a rather pessimistic tale, from some standpoints, though not entirely, and the storyteller is a very clever one. She proves this cleverness when she winds up with a djinn of her very own.
Byatt's characters never seem to be black or white; instead, they are simply people with very differing views on life and the choices that should be made. The characters in this book are no different and that is one of things that makes them so charming and believable.
These aren't the typical "happily ever after" fairy tales of your childhood. They are, rather, meditations and reflections instead. But they are meditations and reflections that do contain more than a bit of magic. If you like your fairy tales told with a modern touch and if you prefer them on the esoteric side, this might be a book you'll really enjoy.
First we have "The Glass Coffin", which is excerpted from the novel _Possession_. It's a fairly standard princess-rescuing sort of fairy tale, starring a young man who chooses adventure over good sense, and is rewarded for it.
Then comes "Gode's Story", also from _Possession_, which is about a man who returns from sea to find his lover deeply changed. It was great within the setting of the novel, and set the mood perfectly when Christabel traveled to Brittany, but standing alone it's a rather depressing story. It works better in context.
"The Tale of the Eldest Princess" is simply delightful. The princess goes out on a quest, keenly aware that the eldest child in stories always fails in his or her quest, and usually because of arrogance. This is the story of how the princess consciously tries to make the story go differently this time. In the end she finds something she didn't even know she was looking for.
"Dragon's Breath" is a story of bored villagers who gain a new perspective after volcanic creatures destroy most of their town; suddenly they come alive again with tales of tragedy, heroism, and dumb luck. Suddenly they see value in what they have. Seems awfully prophetic, considering this was published three years ago.
Finally, we come to the title story, "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye", which is a lush and romantic tale about a middle-aged professor who goes to a conference in Istanbul, and buys a pretty glass bottle that just happens to contain a djinn. It's a sensual and enchanting tale of a woman learning new things about herself. It is so richly written that Byatt can refer to the remote control as "the black lozenge" without sounding ridiculous. We are immersed in a world of hotels and shops, described so lushly that they feel like scenes from Arabian Nights tales of many years ago, despite their modernity. And while we know, from other tales, what the woman's third wish will be, the ending is written beautifully and doesn't feel cliched.
All in all, a wonderful collection of tales.