The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle
The Secret History of Fantasy is not a typical, trendy fantasy collection. It is not full of zombies or vampires, sword-wielding barbarians, steampunk machines, or clever magicians. Instead the authors usually tell stories that seem more derived from oddities in the real world, than not. Editor Peter S. Beagle selected stories published from 1977 to 2009 by Gregory Maguire, Patricia McKillip, Francesca Lia Block, Yann Martel, and other authors you’ll recognize.
In “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” Stephen King once again adds the magical to the most mundane. Homer Buckland and some other old boys in Castle Lake, Maine reminisce about Ophelia Todd, whose passion was finding the shortest routes to Bangor, usually anywhere from 129 to 156 miles by road, and 79 as the crow flies. But she finds shorter and shorter ways through some odd forests, dropping mileage to 111, then 67, and, shortly before she disappears, 31.6 miles. Folks remember that she seemed to look younger….
Terry Bisson’s now-classic “Bears Discover Fire” begins with a flat tire on I-65 and continues with a touching story of an old woman’s final hours, peacefully shared with the kindness of bears.
My favorite story here is Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples.” Snow White’s stepmother was framed! You’ll enjoy this very convincing narrative told by the Queen, herself.
If you’d like to know about the real history of the fantasy genre, be sure to read editor Peter S. Beagle’s introduction and the two short historical essays following the stories: “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” by Ursula K. Le Guin; and, “The Making of the American Fantasy Genre” by David G. Hartwell.
If you like The Secret History of Fantasy, try another anthology with its fantasy based in the real world. Shadow Show: All-new Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury includes stories inspired by the works of legendary author Bradbury. Among the 26 authors are Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman, and Audrey Niffenegger.