My paperback copies of Ray Bradbury's wonderful fantasy collections--The Illustrated Man, October Country, Dandelion Wine, The Machineries of Joy, and The Martian Chronicles--are in sad shape. The pages are brittle, yellowed, and, yes, a bit musty. But I keep them because his lyrical words matchlessly probe humanity at its worst and best. When friends of mine gifted us with 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales one Christmas, I was happy to have many of those beautiful stories collected together in a hardback edition to last for years--and so was the local library for we own several copies of it.
I certainly won't go through every one of the one hundred, but I'll mention several pieces that stuck with me time and again. One of the first stories in the collection is "The Rocket," in which a poor junk man gets hold of a prototype rocketship and dreams of somehow going into space with his family. "The Sailor Home from the Sea" is a tale of loss and love and the imagination to reconcile them. "The Sound of Summer Running" is the opening piece for Dandelion Wine, and it brings back the time of year and the time of life for one young man who feels as if his whole town might capsize, go under, leaving not a trace in the clover and weeds of burgeoning summer.
The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris
Gawain of Orkney doesn't need a squire. He's yet to make it to King Arthur's court to be knighted, and if he does need a squire later, he has a few brothers in the hinterlands who will do. For his part, Terence was perfectly happy taking care of his foster father, the hermit Trevisant. He was a kind boy and an excellent cook, though granted a bit confused at present. Just recently the trees had started talking to him.
His Majesty's Elephant by Judith Tarr
The hue and cry outside the royal stables of the Emperor Charlemagne sounded like a battle raging to Rowan. The grooms were trying to push a gigantic elephant into one of the Emperor's old war tents, and Abul Abbas, for so the elephant was called, was having none of it.
Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick
When Horn's war party found the girl, she was hidden in the corner of the cave, undressed, and past comforting by the wolves who raised her. They had been slaughtered by the Lawspeaker's band or else run off, howling their rage and loneliness. A foundling, surely, filthy, perhaps seven or eight summers old. Horn, the Lawspeaker, growled that she should not join the Storn tribe. A worthless child... another mouth to feed in starving times.
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde
What's wrong with this story:
A father tells the authorities his daughter can do impossible things AND the authorities believe him.
A soon-to-be bride promises to give her future baby away to a TROLL.
Said bride agrees to marry the man who's threatened to kill her if she can't keep doing the impossible.
What would a troll do with a baby anyhow, and why would he give her all that spun gold for a tiny ring?
Why doesn't the heroine do ANYTHING to get herself out of this predicament?!
The standing stones of Salisbury plain, once a Neolithic gathering place of star watching and blood sacrifice, is eerie enough by moonlight. But something roams the jagged countryside, hiding from the sunlit world.
The Doom Stone by Paul Zindel
It is a great thing to have a truly cool aunt. Think real-world Indiana Jones, and you have Jackson's Aunt Sarah. On any given summer break, she might be found in any part of the world, excavating fossils of long ago hominids. Last spring break it had been Ethiopia. They'd slept in hammocks in the jungle to keep out of reach of the giant rats that prowled below.