A first collection of fairy tales and fables from Britain's Poet Laureate (Winter Pollen, 1995, etc.), who seems somewhat less than steady on his feet when it comes to prose. Like most poets, Hughes has a keen ear for the music of language, and a strong, almost visual sense of image, and he makes good use of these talents in his stories, all of which seem, in the final analysis, to become evocations of mood rather than narratives. Thus, in ""O'Kelly's Angel,"" we are witnesses to the political furor that erupts across Europe when a caged angel is put on display in Yorkshire, and in ""The Deadfall,"" we are told of a boy's quest to find the ghosts who appear to his mother. The perspective throughout is often that of a child: ""Sunday,"" for example, shows how a dead rat provides a boy with his first inklings of mortality, just as ""Rain Horse"" describes a somewhat older boy's conquest of such fear as it's expressed in connection with a farmhorse escaped from its paddock. While Hughes manages to convey moods and the textures of feeling with great skill, he invests these moods with very little history and almost no storyline for the reader to grasp or remember. Those familiar with the sad history of Hughes's marriage to Sylvia Plath, for example, will be able to decode the symbolism of ""The Head,"" but most may be baffled by its opacity. Similarly, the war narrative at the heart of ""The Wound"" is made somewhat more interesting through an awareness of its genesis in the actual experience of the author, but not enough so to make up for its obscurity of purpose and general lack of action. Good news for fans of Hughes (and Plath) only; less resonant for others.