Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer - Tanith Lee This collection of reworked fairy tales was fascinating and thought-provoking. They are arranged so that each story is set in a different time and different places. The Paid Piper is set in Asia in the last century B.C., Red As Blood in 14th century Europe, Thorns in 15th century Eurasia, When The Clock Strikes in 16th century Europe, The Golden Rope in the 17th century, The Princess and Her Future in Asia in 18th century, Wolfland is in Scandinavia in 19th century, Black as Ink in 20th century Scandinavia, and Beauty set on Earth in the future.

Of all, I think "Beauty" is my favorite as it is Tanith Lee's retelling of Beauty and the Beast, albeit a science fiction version set in the future. There is a wonderful commingling of folklore, mythology, and futuristic elements here that resonated with every word and subsequent image. Although I did like Wolfland, too, which is a clever retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Having Red and Granny as werewolves was definitely a fresh way of looking at the Big Bad Wolf. Several have religious overtones, like Red As Blood, and I didn't care for those as much. I'm not sure what fairy tale The Princess and Her Future is based on. It wasn't so easily recognizable to me as the others were. I bought this book strictly for the author's version of Beauty and the Beast, and Beauty is, in my opinion, the best of them all.

When I was a teenager, I had a fascination with/obsession for mythology. I fell in love with the stories of Apollo pursuing Daphne who is changed into a laurel tree to escape his advances, the abduction of Persephone by Hades, and Perseus vanquishing Medusa. But my favorite was, and still is, Cupid and Psyche. I can't recall how many times my mom caught me reading this story well after my bedtime. It took me a while, but I finally realized that my fascination with Cupid and Psyche was, in part, due to my love for the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast.

Both Beauty and Psyche are, in effect, taken from their homes and forced to live with a mysterious "beast", a potential lover that fills Beauty/Psyche with fear, revulsion, and apprehension at first. The "beast" who lives far away in seclusion from other people as well as the jealousy of Beauty's/Psyche's respective sisters are also shared elements. The luxuries and magical elements of the "beast's" home and the fact that the unseen lover does not immediately approach Beauty/Psyche are also common to both stories. But the main similarity is in the theme of transformation, a metamorphosis. It's the last element that has always intrigued me, and that element of transformation is front and center in Tanith Lee's story, "Beauty."

Estar Levina is the youngest of Mercator Levin's three daughters. From the first, it is apparent how different Estar is from her sisters. Her name sets her apart, being "ill-named for a distant planet, meaning the same as the Greek word psyche." Mercator refers to her as his only "born daughter", a distinction that she was born from the womb of a woman with whom he had long since parted. Estar's sisters, Joya and Lyra, were the result of laboratory unions of his semen "mixed with the particles of unknown women in crystal tubes." Additionally, Estar is not described as breathtakingly beautiful as Beauty in the fairy tale or Psyche of Greek mythology. In fact, Estar is rather nondescript with plain brown hair except for its apple green tint and her height. She has never been able to "convey herself to others" as Lyra does through music and as Joya does through communication. She has "always been beset by her feelings, finding no outlet", an amorphous restless discontent, longing for some unknown something. Estar is in this chrysalis stage of transformation when her father receives a green rose to be given to one of his daughters.

Mercator is 150 years old as the story begins, and it is through his eyes that the reader learns how aliens came to live on Earth and the custom of alien roses that summon Earthling males and females as companions to those star men and women who stayed behind on Earth. When Mercator was five, Earth received her first visit from aliens. They did not come to conquer or wage war for they were not a bellicose people. Instead these people from the stars bestowed gifts of advanced "technology, intellect, and industry." Most left; some remained either because they liked it here or were just too weary of traveling from planet to planet. The ones who settled on Earth never imposed themselves onto human society or intruded in any way. In fact, they constructed homes far away from civilization, and after a time Earthlings found it easy to forget they were even here. Until the first roses were sent out twenty-one years after their arrival.

Tanith Lee takes two stories - Apuleius' Cupid and Psyche and Mme. Beaumont's well-known version of "La Belle et la Bête" - and intriguingly unifies the disparity of Cupid's male beauty with Beast's monstrousness in the creation of Estar's alien companion. The alien who summons one of Mercator's daughters is a member of a species who are both revered and feared. Revered for all the good things they have brought to Earth, and feared because these advantages are to be seemingly repaid at such a high cost: "the loss of one child." The summons is always posed as a request; it is always gracious, without force, and courteous, but it is also always "undeniable."

When the aliens first arrived, humans saw them in their true form, and they were judged "ugly," "hideous." People saw "inches of pelted hairy skin, gauntleted over-fingered hands, and brilliant eyes empty of white, lensed by their yellow conjunctiva." The visitors, it was thought, out of respect to human sensibilities or perhaps their own distress "covered their ugliness with elegant garments, gloves, masking draperies, hoods, and visors." So when a family receives one of those alien roses of purple, azure, or green, it is always received with great fear and horror that one of their own is to be given up to these "others" - beings so radically different in appearance inspiring only the deepest revulsion. Even worse is that over time, those same sons and daughters begin to distance themselves from their families. Visits and communications become fewer and then stop completely, leaving "a dreadful sourceless silence." Earth's sons and daughters were "sacrificed to monsters or monstrous gods, given in their earthly perfection to dwell with beasts." Despite technological advances that allows space travel to be no more treacherous than, say, catching the bus or driving a car and a better, longer quality of life, despite the aliens's pacifistic demeanor and beneficence, these summons are feared because the aliens are "other", different. They do not look human; they are not the same.

As Estar spends more time with her alien companion, her fears and anger and uncertainty are resolved, ameliorated. She becomes comfortable, more confident, "quieter, more still, absorbent" and "more favorably aware of her [family] than ever in the past." She feared she would be either a "slave" or a "pet." She is neither. She's angry at her perceived loss of privacy when she discovers the alien can communicate telepathically with her only to learn that it was her own strongly projected thoughts acting as a beacon to one who is "sensitive to another mind which signals to it." She is free to come and go from his house as she pleases, free to visit Levin, Joya, and Lyra. It is with this being who is "other" that she finds true freedom and acceptance. For the first time, she is happy, her "turbulent spirit" has calmed, and with that inner peace, a surprising ability to compose music is unleashed. In fact, Estar enjoys more freedom than she's ever experienced with her "family" and is able to let go emotionally for the first time. Despite not knowing what her otherworldly companion looks like, Estar believes she has fallen in love with him but is unsure if she can accept him as a lover. Each time she ponders this, "a darkness would fall down on her mind and she would close the door on it. It was unthinkable."

Prompted by her sister, Joya, Estar is persuaded to see her companion without the garments that hide what he truly looks like, without the technology that distorts his voice. When Estar finally sees her alien companion sans camouflage, she is not disgusted as she expected. Indeed, she is awestruck at how "utterly and dreadfully beautiful" he is. To Estar, those first aliens could have been "worshipped in terror as a god" if they had come at a time when primitive man prevailed. Looking upon these "others" without their cloaking garments is like gazing at the sun with the naked eye, blinding all who dare to look upon their magnificence.

Instead of a monstrous beast transformed into a handsome prince as in "La Belle et La Bête" or transformation from mortal woman into an immortal goddess as in Cupid and Psyche, the "beast" in Tanith Lee's "Beauty" does not transform and the change is in Estar is an internal one, not external. Her metamorphosis is almost complete upon finally seeing her alien for the first time. She recognizes that "[t]o fear to gaze at their ugliness, that was a safe and sensible premise. To fear their grandeur and their marvel - that smacked of other emotions less wise or good." She is ashamed of her condescension, admitting to herself it was acceptable to give herself to "one physically inferior", but after really seeing him without a disguise, she found it impossible to be worthy of so wondrous a being.

If you haven't read "Beauty", I'm not going to spoil the big reveal by describing Estar's companion. Nor will I spoil how this apparent imbalance that troubles Estar - her unworthiness of her alien lover - is resolved. I will say I thought the resolution is just a tiny bit deus ex machina but still wonderfully beautiful and apt for all that. It doesn't diminish or demean the takeaway message at all. The isolating "otherness" that Estar has felt most of her life as well as the mirroring "otherness" of her alien companion ceases to exist. At its heart this story is about knowing "[t]he electric irresistible charisma of the one thing one has always yearned for. To be known, accepted, and so to be at peace. No longer unique, or shut in, or shut out, or alone." Not "other."