Review: “The Scrivener” by Eleanor Arnason

4 of 5 stars.

Unabashedly updated meets folktale in this delightful, allegorical yarn. Halfway between helplessly idyllic and the big modern cities, lies a village with a scrivener who wished to be a storyteller. He’s a single father with 3 [naturally!] daughters: Ima [Imagination], Orna [Ornamentation], and Plot. His desire is for them to now be storytellers in his stead. They are less inclined, but aim to please their father. They each write a pathetic tale and then head to the elephantine, chain-smoking reviewer in town who dismisses their talents predictably [Respectively: All imagination with nothing to rein it in. Beautiful words choices but no syntactic sense. Driving action but zero development of character or mood.] She, the reviewer, recommends they visit the witch who resides deep in the dark woods aside the village.

Ima goes first. Her imagination has her terrified of the woods come dark. Luckily, she is found by a kindly woodsman who takes care of his mother. Ima is invited to spend the night in their cabin. That night, Ima discovers that they are werewolves, but they mean her no harm. The woodsman helps her find her way back out of he woods.

Orna goes second. She immediately discovers a nest of female forest spirits and spends weeks in a drunken orgy:

She had never experienced anything like this before. Of course it overwhelmed her. She dove into it like a kingfisher into the river and brought up her first real orgasm like a struggling, silver fish.

When the dryads start to hibernate for the winter, Orna returns home.

Plot goes third, right at the start of winter. She finds the elephantine witch efficiently and stays the winter to apprentice . . .

Pleasantly, the fable does have a moral or two. The lesser one being: story reviewers are siblings to evil witches–noted. The tale did not go where expected.

“The Scrivener” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Subterranean, Winter 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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