The Girl Who Cried Flowers and Other Tales

by Jane Yolen
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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719

Like Yolen’s many other original fantasies and fairy tales, these stories strike the reader as being both familiar and strange, both old and new. With their simplicity of plot and characterization, their wondrous images from the realms of nature and magic, they are as accessible and appealing to children as...

(The entire section contains 719 words.)

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Like Yolen’s many other original fantasies and fairy tales, these stories strike the reader as being both familiar and strange, both old and new. With their simplicity of plot and characterization, their wondrous images from the realms of nature and magic, they are as accessible and appealing to children as traditional fairy tales. Yolen’s evocative poetic style and subtle but not simplistic morals attract older readers as well. Typical of many modern stories by feminists and children’s writers is the focus on young women and children who strive to find their place in the world and form meaningful relationships; they are often braver and wiser than their more powerful adversaries and relatives.

Beginning with settings remote in time and place, Yolen has interwoven familiar patterns from myth and folklore. Only “The Girl Who Cried Flowers” has a somewhat specific setting in ancient Greece, when people believed in tree spirits. “Dawn-Strider,” like a traditional pourquoi tale explaining the nature of the universe, tells how the sun established its daily course across the sky. “The Weaver of Tomorrow” dramatizes the old metaphor of time’s tapestries woven on a loom until death breaks the thread of each individual life. “The Lad Who Stared Everyone Down” is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pride; the growth and repetition of the boy’s boastful list of people whom he has stared down creates a cumulative pattern found in many folktales and children’s stories. As Yolen explained in “The Brothers Grimm and Sister Jane,” a 1993 essay about her lifelong reading of fairy tales, she was profoundly influenced by the Grimms’ story “The Three Little Men in the Woods” and “used the idea of something unnatural coming from a girl’s mouth in the story ‘Silent Bianca.’”

The three middle tales are united by the theme of time and their focus on children bold enough to confront stronger and older characters. After the children in “Dawn-Strider” teach the giant that love is stronger than fear, he stops impeding the sun and enjoys human companionship by day. Time becomes meaningless to the boy in “The Lad Who Stared Everyone Down” after the sun burns his eyes. He is the only main character in these tales whose life is destroyed by his folly. “The Weaver of Tomorrow” contains a more complex message about realizing that the passage of time brings both fulfillment and pain; after rushing to learn about the future, Vera feels trapped by responsibility and the grief of observing that death is inevitable both for the old woman whom she loves and for herself.

These tales contain elements that Yolen has identified as “magic, sacrifice, and reward, all the wonderful accoutrements of a fairy tale.” The first and last tales are linked by their focus on women with strange and magical gifts and the bittersweet ironies in their moral themes. In “The Girl Who Cried Flowers,” marriage brings happiness, but love makes the husband selfish and short-sighted, like the giant in “Dawn-Strider.” Olivia needs to experience both happiness and sadness, to serve her neighbors as well as her husband. As a magical tree, she can give fruit and flowers to everyone, yet her humanity is sacrificed. Silent Bianca’s happy ending closes the book on a more hopeful note. She is rewarded for using her magic cleverly, finding an appreciative husband who brings her snowy beauty and icy words to warm gradually at his fire.

The characters in these tales experience isolation and strangeness, but they need to love and learn from others. This dilemma symbolizes the situation of the storyteller and the tales themselves. Olivia’s husband attracts her with his skillfully told, happy stories, but he should share her with others and allow her to cry at tragic stories. Like the art of weaving the tapestry of life and the gift of crying flowers or speaking in slivers of ice that few people bother to thaw and hear, the storyteller’s craft blends the natural and the spiritual, bringing both joy and sadness to the artist and to thoughtful people who appreciate her gifts. In a later collection, Dream Weaver (1979), Yolen calls the old blind weaver’s stories “the heart and soul made visible” and refers to the tales as “resonances of the teller’s life: my life.”

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