Sister Emily's Lightship: And Other Stories

Sister Emily's Lightship: And Other Stories

by Jane Yolen

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In these twenty-eight magnificent tales, which include two Nebula Award winners, Jane Yolen puts a provocative spin on familiar storybook worlds and beloved fairy tale characters
One of the most acclaimed and honored authors in science fiction and fantasy, Jane Yolen has been called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” for her brilliant reimagining of classic fairy tales. In her first collection of short stories written for an adult audience (after Tales of Wonder and Dragonfield), Yolen explores themes of freedom and justice, truth and consequence, and brings new life to our most cherished fables and myths. Here are storybook realms rendered more contemporary, and cautionary tales made grimmer than Grimm: Snow White is transported to Appalachia to match wits with a snake-handling evil stepmother and Beauty’s meeting with the Beast takes a twisty, O. Henry–esque turn; in Yolen’s Nebula Award–winning “Lost Girls,” a feminist revolt rocks Peter Pan’s Neverland and in the collection’s glorious title story—also a Nebula winner—the poet Emily Dickinson receives some unexpected and otherworldly inspiration. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always enthralling, Sister Emily’s Lightship is proof positive that Yolen is truly a folklorist of our times.  This ebook features a personal history by Jane Yolen including rare images from the author’s personal collection, as well as a note from the author about the making of the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480423275
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 06/18/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 263,188
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.  
Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.   

Read an Excerpt

Sister Emily's Lightship

and Other Stories

By Jane Yolen


Copyright © 2000 Jane Yolen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-2327-5


The Traveler and the Tale

Traveling south from Ambert you must pass the old stoney abbey of La Chaise-Dieu. It was near that abbey in 1536 that a young woman fell asleep on a dolmen and dreamed of the virgin. There are some who said such dreams come as a consequence of lying out in the night air. Others that it was the cold stone beneath her that prompted such haverings. A few bitter souls said that she was, alas, no better than she should have been and women like that cannot dream of the Queen of Heaven and it was perforce a lie.

But the dreamer was a simple peasant woman caught out between Ambert and Le Puy, having turned her ankle on the rough road. She did not realize how close she was to the abbey or she would have gone there for the night. The dolmen, raised up as it was, kept her free of the damp and safe from vipers. Such safety was the extent of her imagination. She did not dream of the virgin; she was waking and she saw me.

I was caught in the Aura of a time change, when the centuries lie side by side for the moment of Pass-Through. The woman saw what she thought was a crown of stars on my head, which was nothing more than the Helmet. Aura and Helmet and an untutored sixteenth century mind. What else could she believe than that I was either an angel or the Mother of God?

When I saw her and realized that I had been caught out, I swore under my breath. "Merde!"

If the expletive startled her, she did not show it. I believe she must have mistaken it for a name.

"Marie," she whispered, crossing herself three or four times in rapid succession before passing out in an excess of ecstasy and oxygen.

I knew enough to leave her alone and hurry along my way. My destination was a small town in Auvergne where a cottage awaited me. I was well versed in the local dialect—Occitan. It sat comfortably on my tongue. The stories in Henri Pourrat's vast collection of regional tales I had memorized, my memory only slightly enhanced by Oxipol. I was always a good and quick study. As my teaching machine chose to jest with me in the same dialect: "Qu'aucu t'aye liceno." ("Someone has been teaching you a lesson!" No one has ever said machines have good senses of humor. It has to do with a lack of the funny bone.)

It was my duty to infiltrate the community and interpolate several stories artfully prepared by our Revolutionary Council some three thousand years in France's future. Odd, isn't it, that with all the time traveling we have done since the invention of the Module, it has become abundantly clear that no shot fired, no knife thrown, no spear in the gut has the power to change the world of the future. Le Bon Dieu knows we have tried. Hitler blown up. The Khan poisoned. Marie Antoinette throttled in her cradle. And all to no avail. History, like a scab, calcifies over each wound and beneath it the skin of human atrocity heals. Only through stories, it seems can we really influence the history that is to come. Told to a ready ear, repeated by a willing mouth, by that process of mouth-to-ear resuscitation we change the world.

Stories are not just recordings. They are prophecies. They are dreams. And—so it seems—we humans build the future on such dreams.

If I am successful in my storytelling, the Auvergne of the future will be a garden of earthly splendor. Gone will be the long lines of the impoverished children walking dull-eyed toward Paris under the lash of the Alien Horde. Gone will be the ravaged fields, the razed houses, the villages' streets strewn with bones.

But when I stepped into the past, ready to play my part for the future, wrapped in the ocreous glow of transfer, a peasant woman lying uneasily on a dolmen with a bad ankle added a new story, one we had not planned: how the Mother of God visited Ambert that spring. The peasant circles would soon be abuzz with it and it would in its own way change the future of the Auvergne. Would it bring a resurgence of piety to the land whose practical approach to religion had led to an easy accommodation with the socialism of the twentieth century, the apostasy of the twenty-first, the capitulation to Alien rites of the twenty-second? Without the Council's Modular Computes I could not know.

"Merde!" I cursed, stepping back.

She crossed herself and fainted.

Smoothing my skirts down, I glanced toward the road. I had planned to add two stories to Pourrat's collection. One was a Beast fabliau, about two mice and a cricket who throw off the yoke of slavery put on them by a race of cats, the other a tale we call Dinner-in-an-Eggshell which is about discovering the alien that lives in your house. We hope that one or the other or both will have the effect of warning our people. The odds have been calculated carefully but I will never know if they will succeed.

The traveler cannot return from the trip. I expect to live my thirty years as a weaver in the cottage hard by the mill, telling my stories that will pass from my mouth to my neighbors' ears at night when we work at our several tasks, one perhaps scutching hemp, another spinning, the servants tidying their threshing flails. Oh, we will have a lovely time of it, for what else is there to do on a cold harvest eve but tell stories before the fire before bundling off to our straw beds.


A woman was nursing her baby and it was the sweetest child you can imagine, with bright blue eyes and a mouth like a primrose.

One March day, the mother took her child and put him in his crib by the fire and went out to get water for the stone sink. When she returned, she heard a strange, horrible snuffling sound from the baby's crib.

She almost dropped the jug in alarm, and ran over to see what was wrong. And what did she see? Instead of her sweet baby lying in his crib, there was a something on the pillow as ugly and misshapen as a toad. It had bulging eyes and a green tongue and when it breathed, it made an awful snuffling sound.

The mother screamed, but then she knew what she had to do because this was a fairy's changeling child. She would have to compel him to speak and it would be no easy task, because she would have to surprise him.

So for three days she pretended to the changeling that she thought it her own child. She petted it and praised it though its very looks made her ill.

On the third day, she said to herself aloud, "I have ten strong laborers coming over for dinner." And she rushed about the house getting ready for them, filling six milk pails with milk and four basins with cream carving away a side of lard and taking down an entire rope of onions.

"Oh me, oh my," she sighed, "what a job to cook dinner for ten in an eggshell."

The changeling sat up in its crib, a startled look on its ugly toad face.

Three hundred years I have lived well,
But never seen dinner in a white eggshell.

At that, the mother took out a whip and she whipped and whipped the baby, crying:

Ugly toad in baby's cot,
My sweet baby you are not. Who are you?

And because the ugly changeling had already spoken, it had to speak again. It cried out because the whip hurt it. "I am a fairy child. Ow. Ow. Ow."

At that the fairies had to come and take their ugly baby home, bringing the mother's own child in exchange.

She picked him up and hugged him to her and she never let him out of her sight again.

To The Armies of the Revolution:

We greet you.

The enemy is gone. No more do we suffer under their whip. No more do we offer them our sons and daughters as slaves.

Now we must rebuild our nation, our world. Now we must tell the story of our travails and recall our heroes home.

—The Marian Council

My good Robin is as fine a husband as a woman could want. And a fine storyteller, too. His stories are of the land—when Fox stole fish from the fishmongers, when Crow lost his cheese. He expects me to tell only women's stories, the stork tales, the tales of ma mère l'Oye. This I know. This I do. I tell the tales my Maman told me. But—oh—I wish in this one thing Robin could know my heart. When Maman was dying, she often rambled about a world ruled by frogs and toads. A world in which humans were able to travel along the great river of time, but backward, only backward.

"I am a traveler," she would cry out, and weep. And Papa could not help her then, nor Jouanne or me. We would hold her hands and only when we said, "Maman, tell us a story," would she be comforted.

"A story," she would say, the mist going from her eyes. "I can tell you many stories. I must tell you many stories." She called them pourrats, these tales, and they were such strange stories. Hard to understand. Hard to forget.

I tell them to my own children, as Jouanne does, I am sure, to hers. But stories do not feed a mouth, they do not salve a wound, they do not fill the soul. Only God does that. And the Mother of God. We know that surely here in our village, for did not two women just thirty years past see Mary, Mother of God, on a dolmen? Her head was crowned with stars and she named herself.

"I am Marie," she said. "Believe in me and you will be saved."

One of the women who saw her was Maman.


Snow in Summer

They call that white flower that covers the lawn like a poplin carpet Snow in Summer. And because I was born in July with a white caul on my head, they called me that, too. Mama wanted me to answer to Summer, which is a warm, pretty name. But my Stepmama, who took me in hand just six months after Mama passed away, only spoke the single syllable of my name, and she didn't say it nicely.

"Snow!" It was a curse in her mouth. It was a cold, unfeeling thing. "Snow, where are you, girl? Snow, what have you done now?"

I didn't love her. I couldn't love her, though I tried. For Papa's sake I tried. She was a beautiful woman, everyone said. But as Miss Nancy down at the postal store opined, "Looks ain't nothing without a good heart." And she was staring right at my Stepmama when she said it. But then Miss Nancy had been Mama's closest friend ever since they'd been little ones, and it nigh killed her, too, when Mama was took by death.

Papa was besot with my Stepmama. He thought she couldn't do no wrong. The day she moved into Cumberland he said she was the queen of love and beauty. That she was prettier than a summer night. He praised her so often, she took it ill any day he left off complimenting, even after they was hitched. She would have rather heard those soft nothings said about her than to talk of any of the things a husband needs to tell his wife: like when is dinner going to be ready or what bills are still to be paid.

I lived twelve years under that woman's hard hand, with only Miss Nancy to give me a kind word, sweep pop, and a magic story when I was blue. Was it any wonder I always went to town with a happier countenance than when I had to stay at home.

And then one day Papa said something at the dinner table, his mouth greasy with the chicken I had cooked and his plate full with the taters I had boiled. And not a thing on that table that my Stepmama had made. Papa said, as if surprised by it, "Why Rosemarie ..." which was my Stepmama's Christian name ... "why Rosemarie do look at what a beauty that child has become."

And for the first time my Stepmama looked—really looked—at me.

I do not think she liked what she saw.

Her green eyes got hard, like gems. A row of small lines raised up on her forehead. Her lips twisted around. "Beauty," she said. "Snow," she said. She did not say the two words together. They did not fit that way in her mouth.

I didn't think much of it at the time. If I thought of myself at all those days, it was as a lanky, gawky, coltish child. Beauty was for horses or grown women, Miss Nancy always said. So I just laughed.

"Papa, you are just fooling," I told him. "A daddy has to say such things about his girl." Though in the thirteen years I had been alive he had never said any such over much. None in fact that I could remember.

But then he added something that made things worse, though I wasn't to know it that night. "She looks like her Mama. Just like her dear Mama."

My Stepmama only said, "Snow, clear the dishes."

So I did.

But the very next day my Stepmama went and joined the Holy Roller Mt. Hosea Church which did snake handling on the fourth Sunday of each month and twice on Easter. Because of the Bible saying "Those who love the Lord can take up vipers and they will not be killed," the Mt. Hosea folk proved the power of their faith by dragging out rattlers and copperheads from a box and carrying them about their shoulders like a slippery shawl. Kissing them, too, and letting the pizzen drip down on their checks.

Stepmama came home from church, her face all flushed and her eyes all bright and said to me, "Snow, you will come with me next Sunday."

"But I love Webster Baptist," I cried. "And Reverend Bester. And the hymns." I didn't add that I loved sitting next to Miss Nancy and hearing the stories out of the Bible the way she told them to the children's class during the Reverend's long sermon. "Please Papa, don't make me go."

For once my Papa listened. And I was glad he said no. I am feared of snakes, though I love the Lord mightily. But I wasn't sure any old Mt. Hosea rattler would know the depth of that love. Still, it wasn't the snakes Papa was worried about. It was, he said, those Mt. Hosea boys.

My Stepmama went to Mt. Hosea alone all that winter, coming home later and later in the afternoon from church, often escorted by young men who had scars on their cheeks where they'd been snakebit. One of them, a tall blonde fellow who was almost handsome except for the meanness around his eyes, had a tattoo of a rattler on his bicep with the legend "Love Jesus Or Else" right under it.

My Papa was not amused.

"Rosemarie," he said, "you are displaying yourself. That is not a reason to go to church."

"I have not been doing this for myself," she replied. "I thought Snow should meet some young men now she's becoming a woman. A beautiful woman." It was not a compliment in her mouth. And it was not the truth, either, for she had never even introduced me to the young men nor told them my true name.

Still Papa was satisfied with her answer, though Miss Nancy, when I told her about it later, said, "No sow I know ever turned a boar over to her litter without a fight."

However, the blonde with the tattoo came calling one day and he didn't ask for my Stepmama. He asked for me. For Snow. My Stepmama smiled at his words, but it was a snake's smile, all teeth and no lips. She sent me out to walk with him, though I did not really want to go. It was the mean eyes and the scars and the rattler on his arm, some. But more than that, it was a feeling I had that my Stepmama wanted me to be with him. And that plum frightened me.

When we were in the deep woods, he pulled me to him and tried to kiss me with an open mouth and I kicked him in the place Miss Nancy had told me about, and while he was screaming, I ran away. Instead of chasing me, he called after me in a voice filled with pain. "That's not even what your Stepmama wanted me to do to you." But I kept running, not wanting to hear any more.

I ran and ran even deeper into the woods, long past the places where the rhododendron grew wild. Into the dark places, the boggy places, where night came upon me and would not let me go. I was so tired from all that running, I fell asleep right on a tussock of grass. When I woke there was a passel of strangers staring down at me. They were small, humpbacked men, their skin blackened by coal dust, their eyes curious. They were ugly as an unspoken sin.

"Who are you?" I whispered, for a moment afraid they might be more of my Stepmama's crew.

They spoke together, as if their tongues had been tied in a knot at the back end. "Miners," they said. "On Keeperwood Mountain."

"I'm Snow in Summer," I said. "Like the flower."

"Summer," they said as one. But they said it with softness and a kind of dark grace. And they were somehow not so ugly anymore. "Summer."

So I followed them home.

And there I lived for seven years, one year for each of them. They were as good to me and as kind as if I was their own little sister. Each year, almost as if by magic, they got better to look at. Or maybe I just got used to their outsides and saw within. They taught me how to carve out jewels from the black cave stone. They showed me the secret paths around their mountain. They warned me about strangers finding their way to our little house. I cooked for them and cleaned for them and told them Miss Nancy's magic stories at night. And we were happy as can be. Oh, I missed my Papa now and then, but my Stepmama not at all. At night I sometimes dreamed of the tall blonde man with the rattler tattoo, but when I cried out one of the miners would always comfort me and sing me back to sleep in a deep, gruff voice that sounded something like a father and something like a bear.


Excerpted from Sister Emily's Lightship by Jane Yolen. Copyright © 2000 Jane Yolen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • The Traveler and the Tale
  • Snow in Summer
  • Speaking to the Wind
  • The Thirteenth Fey
  • Granny Rumple
  • Blood Sister
  • Journey into the Dark
  • The Sleep of Trees
  • The Uncorking of Uncle Finn
  • Dusty Loves
  • The Gift of the Magicians, with Apologies to You Know Who
  • Sister Death
  • The Singer and the Song
  • Salvage
  • Lost Girls
  • Belle Bloody Merciless Dame
  • Words of Power
  • Great Gray
  • Under the Hill
  • Godmother Death
  • Creationism: An Illustrated Lecture in Two Parts
  • Allerleirauh
  • Sun/Flight
  • Dick W. and His Pussy; or, Tess and Her Adequate Dick
  • Become a Warrior
  • Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn
  • A Ghost of an Affair
  • Sister Emily's Lightship
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note from the Author
  • A Biography of Jane Yolen
  • Copyright

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Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some retell classic tales with different endings and others are completely original, but all are great stories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got this book as a Christmas present. As I had never heard of Jane Yolen before, I was wary in approaching this book. I am very glad that I did. It is the kind of book that grabs your attention and keeps it there. I do not recommonded this book for younger children, but as a teen and a very avid reader I heartly suggest this book!