WizardsDozenA Wizard’s Dozen: Stories of the Fantastic edited by Michael Stearns, 1993.

This is a collection of fantasy stories (roughly middle school level) by different authors.  The tone of the stories varies from light and humorous to dark and serious.  The stories in this collection are:

The Sixty-two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd by Patricia C. Wrede

Caliph Arenschadd has a temper, but unlike other rulers, who have been known to cut off people’s head when they’re angry, Arenschadd is also a wizard.  Because he likes to show off his magic, he has thought of something more creative than executing people: a list of curses to inflict on those who anger him.  As people get him angry, he progresses through the curses in the order that he thought of them, each one worse than the last.  Worse still, he also inflicts the curses on the families of people who annoy him, which is how Imani, the young daughter of the caliph’s vizier has experienced so many at her young age.  However, the caliph has made a serious miscalculation in his latest curse.  This time, he has turned the vizier and his family into werewolves without being able to remove the curse.  As far as anyone knows, it’s impossible to cure lycanthropy.  As the vizier and his family find themselves becoming a threat to those around them, can Imani and her friend Tumpkin find a way to break the curse?

Fairy Dust by Charles De Lint

When Marina’s friend Jason manages to catch a real, live fairy in a jar, she tries to convince him to let it go, but he refuses.  He wants to keep it, just overnight.  But, the fairy ends up dying, and suddenly, Jason himself is severely ill.  Marina is sure that Jason is suffering from a fairy’s curse, but is there anything she can do to save him?

This experience touches on Marina’s absent father, an impractical dreamer, although it does turn out that he has taught Marina an important lesson, and she learns for herself that when she sees someone doing something that she knows is wrong, it is also wrong for her to keep silent.

The Princess Who Kicked Butt by Will Shetterly

In a mystical kingdom, people’s names tell everyone something about their destiny and character.  When a new princess is born in the kingdom, the Fairy Who Was Good With Names comes to bestow a new name on her.  However, the fairy sneezes and no one clearly hears the name that the fairy gave her.  Thinking that the fairy said the princess was “the Princess Who Read Books,” the king and queen make sure that she has plenty of reading material while she’s growing up and don’t give it much more thought.  Later, when the Evil Enchanter tries to force the princess to marry him and her parents to hand over the kingdom, the princess’s true name and her real skills become known.

The Sea Giants by Betty Levin

A great-grandmother translates whale songs for her family to tell them an ancient story: There was once a family that was barely surviving on small fish, small prey, and the little berries that they were able to forage for themselves.  The father wished that he were bigger, stronger, and more powerful so that he could catch bigger prey for his family.  One day, the father and mother paddled out to sea in search of food, and they met a group of giants in their own canoe.   The giants took them back to their own village and gave them food, but although the food they were offered was much larger than anything they could catch themselves, next to the giants, it was about as small as the small prey that the people ate back home.  After while, the couple returned home to their children, guided by a strange gray dog which turns out to be a porpoise.  From then on, the family’s luck begins to change, and they do become more prosperous.  However, the father is unable to forget about the giants, and he feels called to join them again.

Efrum’s Marbles by Joy Oestreicher

Efrum is a giant, but he’s no ordinary giant.  Although Efrum is big (being a giant), he hasn’t grown at all since the age of six.  He is over 30 years old, and he is still a child, which is weird, even for a giant child.  He spends his days playing with other giant children, and his favorite game is marbles.  In fact, he has a favorite marble.  No one knows quite what this marble is made of because no one has ever seen another like it.  It’s strange, and it kind of looks like . . . an eye?  Then, a young giant girl named Brinda plays marbles with Efrum, and for the first time ever, Efrum is tempted to let someone else win his precious, mysterious marble, which clever Brinda realizes may be the first step in helping Efrum to grow up.

“Come Hither” by Tappan King

Meg hates being the middle child in her family.  Her older sister is praised for being responsible, and her younger sister is pampered.  Meg feels like getting into trouble is the only way that she can get attention.  When she gets into trouble and is grounded from her older sister’s birthday party, she decides to amuse herself by messing with her sister’s computer.  She makes a mistake while typing and ends up receiving an invitation from a mysterious elf to join her for a party in his land.  Has Meg just made a serious mistake?

With His Head Tucked Underneath His Arm by Bruce Coville

In a kingdom constantly at war, few young men survive to become old.  Young Brion escapes for a time by pretending to be crippled, but one day, his pretense is exposed, and he is executed for refusing to fight.  However, Brion’s death doesn’t prevent him from returning to end the suffering of his land and hopefully save more people from his fate.

The Queen’s Mirror by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald

This is a re-telling of the story of Snow White.  An older servant tells the young princess about the history of the magic mirror, which belonged to the princess’s grandmother, who ordered her own daughter’s death because she feared and resented her beauty.  There are no dwarves in this version, and it’s a slightly different take on the story.  There are hints that the events in the story repeat with the generations.

The Breath of Princes by Alan P. Smale

When Stephanie is kidnapped from her town by a dragon, the dragon tries to convince her that being a dragon’s prisoner is a much better fate than the one that awaits her in small-town life: drudgery, boring marriage, children, etc.  Of course, he plans to eat her eventually, when he gets tired of her.  Young men try to rescue her, but in a way, Stephanie fears that one of them will succeed.  If they do, she will no doubt be obligated to marry the rescuer, and considering what some of them are like, it might even be worse than being eaten by a dragon.  The man she has always dreamed about is a prince she was lucky enough to meet once, but no prince has come to save her.  There may be a way for Stephanie to save herself from either fate, but she has to sacrifice her innocence in the process.

Harlyn’s Fairy by Jane Yolen

Harlyn lives with her Aunt Marilyn, and when she spots a fairy in the garden one day, her aunt begins to worry about her.  Harlyn’s mother is mentally unstable and prone to paranoid delusions, so Aunt Marilyn keeps a close eye on Harlyn.  She discourages her from reading fantasy stories (although Harlyn loves them) for fear of the effect they might have on her mind.  But, Harlyn really did see a fairy.  The question is, what is she going to do about it?

Lost Soul by Vivian Vande Velde

A young man meets a beautiful, mysterious woman by a stream.  She charms him so much that he no longer loves the woman he was going to marry.  In fact, he is so obsessed with her that he can think of nothing else.  What will he do when he realizes that she doesn’t feel the same?  Is she even . . . human?

The Way of Prophets by Dan Bennett

The royal family of the Stuard Isles has a tradition.  At the age of seventeen, each of them must make a journey alone along an old road known as The Way of Prophets.  The things that they see and the things that happen to them along their journey tell them what their destinies are.  They learn what really matters to them and find a focus for their time as rulers.  So many centuries have passed that no one can be quite sure where the original Way of Prophets was, so mostly, the journey takes on a kind of symbolic meaning, but there are stories that say that, every once in awhile, a young ruler finds their way to the true Way of Prophets, and the kingdom changes in some important way.  When Prince Ransom sets out, he hopes to find the true path himself.  However, when he does, it doesn’t turn out to be quite what he imagined, and it makes him question what he really wants most from his destiny.

I love this story for what the prince’s father told him, “When I am gone, when you take the throne, you will be powerful.  That is guaranteed.  Your knights and armies will make sure of it.  And you will be loved and respected.  That, too, is guaranteed.  No matter what you say and do, there will always be those ready to smother you with love and respect, if you let them, simply because you wear the crown.  Because of who you are, Ransom — because of who you will become when I am gone — you need never be hungry or alone.  But there is no guarantee that you will matter.”  If what Prince Ransom wants most is to matter, can the Way of Prophets make it happen?

Faith by Sherwood Smith

Faith tells her friends fantastic stories all the time.  She comes from a poor family with a lot of problems, so most people assume that she just makes up stories to try to make her life sound better than it really is and avoid thinking about the problems.  Usually, her two best friends don’t mind much, but lately, Melissa has been getting tired of hearing Faith talk about how her dog can talk or how her radio can tune in to Middle Earth.  She’s growing up and losing patience with fantasy stories.  Even the girls’ other friend wishes that Faith would stop asking them to believe these wild stories.  Then, after a visit to the trailer where Faith lives, she begins to change her mind.

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