Folklore is a natural font for fantasy stories, but some stories fit in better than others. “On The Banks of the River of Heaven” felt like an extra element gracefully inserted into Japanese folktales. “The Dybbuk in the Bottle,” by Russell William Asplund feels like a genie in a bottle story dressed up with Jewish folk elements. Despite a couple of hiccups, I ended up liking it enough to want to talk about it.
Avram is a haphazard farmer who dreams of becoming a miracle worker, like Rabbi Meltzer. One day he turns up a bottle in his fields and releases a being he calls a “dybbuk”. This was the first thing that kicked me out of the story. The being released acts a lot more like your basic angry demon imprisoned in ancient days by King Soloman. He makes deals and enforces strict rules. So why not call it a demon?
Then Rabbi Meltzer shows up. His arrival brings the story to life, even if I did hit the second thing to kick me out: his comment on a Saturday morning that the Sabbath had begun. (It began the night before.) Fortunately, there wasn’t a third strike, and I really enjoyed the ensuing clever twists and duel of wits.
I also found looking up the dybbuk quite interesting. A dybbuk is a ghost that clings to a living person. There’s a well-known (if not to me) Yiddish play and movie, called The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds. Curiously enough, the play was criticized for misusing folklore. So I can totally forgive this story for not quite getting a couple of things “right.”
Originally in Silver Birch, Blood Moon.