The idea of children being stolen by fairies and some lifeless changeling being substituted to fool the parents into believing it real has been around in fairytales for centuries. But the substitution of an adult is less common. In the case of Eugie Foster’s Urban Fantasy short story, The Storyteller’s Wife, the supposed suicide of writer Tom Harper, (a sly reference to the mythic Thomas the Rhymer), has a wooden dummy substituted for the real man. Tom’s wife, Janie, however, seems to be the only person who knows the truth, and sees the wooden doll for what it truly is. The paramedics who cart the body away certainly believe the corpse to be that of the real man.
When Janie finds one of the fairy folk still in Tom’s room, she traps the creature there and blackmails it into taking her to the land of the fey in search of her husband. The trip brings her to a perilous domain, filled with weird creatures of wings and fur and carapaces that would not be out of place in a painting by Richard Dadd or Heironymous Bosch.
As in all good fairytales, there is a bargain to be struck, and a price to pay for one decision or the other. The otherworld Tom is young and vibrant, but he has lost all his memories of his life in the ordinary world. Janie’s choice is to take him back to his pain, but also back to the remaining time of their love together, or to leave him someplace he is free of pain.
The choice for Janie is a tough one. In the end, though, she makes the only one she can make. And it is this choice which is the heart of the story. It tells us much about the importance of storytelling, and of love, and why sometimes the hardest decision can be the very best one of all.
The Storyteller’s Wife is beautifully written. It’s full of life, both mundane and magical, and packs more vivid imagery and truth into a short space than many bloated fantasy novels fail to do.
Eugie Foster received the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and was named Author of the Year by Bards and Sages. Her fiction has also received the 2002 Phobos Award; been translated into eight languages; and has been a finalist for the Hugo, Washington Science Fiction Association, Pagan Fiction, and British Science Fiction Association awards.
John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and, under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories called Warriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk series called The Mechanikals.