Four short fairy tales with a contemporary edge, and one novella-length tale that brilliantly transforms a story of middle-age angst into a celebration of serendipity and sex. Byatt (Babel Tower, 1996, etc.) uses that parallel world of fairy tales--which closely resembles our own in motive, character, and outcome--to explore the sources of hope and imagination. ""The Glass Coffin"" reworks a traditional quest tale as a tailor seeking employment helps a stranger and, as a reward, is given a glass key and certain mystifying instructions to follow that lead him to a beautiful sleeping princess. In ""Gode's Story,"" a young woman is true, while her feckless sailor lover betrays her, only to find his happiness with a new bride short-lived when he sees her among the Dead riding the ocean waves. ""The Story of the Eldest Princess"" is a witty reworking of the quest tale as well as a low-key analysis of the role of fate, choice, and character as a princess steps out of her preordained role in life to rescue her people. And ""Dragon's Breath"" is a wry morality tale about the unsuspected ""true relations between peace and beauty and terror"" revealed when dragons destroy a village. But Byatt is at her best in the novella, about what happens when Dr. Gillian Perholt, in Turkey to attend a conference on stories, is granted the chance to make three wishes, which all come true. Troubled by visions of her mortality and her husband's desertion, fiftyish Gillian buys a dirty but striking old glass bottle and takes it back to her hotel. When she washes it, a handsome Djinn appears, who gives her the younger body she wishes for, makes love to her as she wishes, and after talk, tales, and travels, grants her her third wish. An intelligent detour with an exemplary guide through Keats's ""magic casements"" to fairy land.