The Woman Who Loved the Moon and other stories

wwlmFor LGBT History Month, here’s an edited version of the review I wrote for Short Review of the fantasy/ scifi/ horror collection from 1981 by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Lynn is one of the earliest fantasy writers to include same-sex relationships in her writing as a matter of course.

Author of A Different Light, The Dancers of Arun, The Northern Girl (a favourite book of mine) and Watchtower (which won a World Fantasy Award as did the title story of this collection.)

The collection hosts traditional fantasy and science fiction tales which are given a lift by strong writing, realistically strong female protagonists, and satisfyingly matter-of-fact lesbian characters.

“Explain need for Empire at this Time”

I first read this collection when it was originally published back in 1981, an important year for me, coming out and on the lookout for (to be honest, any) books that were positive about lesbians. As a convinced fantasy enthusiast I fell on the work of Elizabeth A Lynn with delight. Thirty plus years later, (long enough to have forgotten all but the general shape of the stories, with the exception of the title story which haunted me for years) these stories have worn well, although I can see their faults more. Lynn does herself no favours with her introductory paragraphs, which I quickly learnt to avoid reading, best to dive straight in to the fantasy than hear how come it took so long to find a publisher, or why she got saddled with a different title (although the variant titles thing is quite interesting!).

As with all collections there are strong, and less convincing stories, and it is when Lynn sticks to fantasy that she is at her best – it is as though an outlandish setting gives her permission to really explore psychological and emotional complexity. The horror stories (and some of the SF)  in this collection are thin to the point of transparency, and feel thrown together, whereas the fantasies engage and challenge – for this shortened version of the review I’m sticking to the positive – this IS one of the books I would save from a burning building, despite its faults.

The first story Wizard’s Domain, starts solidly with treachery and an inventive punishment followed by a forgiveness of the perceived crime, and the forgiveness of the punishment, which we are set up to not trust. Lynn puts her wizards through it: Magic is not easy, and she can be both lyrical and brutal.

The Gods of Reorth is one of those ‘the natives think were gods but we are from another planet’ stories that feel very 50’s in content, but Lynn throws an unconventional spanner into the story with her indignant goddess/alien, who doesn’t see why she should do what the leaders back at home want for this planet, but hesitates too long and has to stand by and let her lover be killed. She gets a subtle, clever revenge. One of the best stories in the book.

The Saints of Drimman takes an anthropologist exploring religious ecstasy one step too far, and I dream of a bird, I dream of a fish, is a moving bit of mother-love overcoming odds with casually plausible bio-science.

Things really pick up with The Dragon Who Lived in the Sea, which makes an unexpected tragedy from fearlessness taught to a child, a lovely thoughtful story, chock full of tension and disappointment.

Mindseye is another explorers-on-an-alien-world story, but it cleverly explores what we mean by human; and how open we can be to difference, or not.

In Don’t Look at Me, a daughter uses sleight of hand to almost gets away with murder, and you find yourself wishing she had.

Jubilee’s story (the original title Gimme Shelter was rejected by the publisher as obscure) throws in warring brothers, childbirth and abuse, and is one of those stories that you spend time thinking about what came before and what might come after.

The final and title story, The Woman Who Loved the Moon brings together lots of mythological tropes: three sisters, goddesses peeved at being compared unfavourably to mortals, kingdoms under the hill where time moves differently, and magical mirrors. Lynn draws you in with the rhythms of the language and even though you are silently protesting this isn’t going to end well, don’t do it, Kai, Lynn allows you to believe it might – just – maybe, be possible to love the moon, and astonishingly be loved back. It is one of the saddest stories I’ve read, and while it doesn’t move me the way it did thirty years ago it deserved the Word Fantasy Award it won.

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