Four playful changes on traditional fairy tale themes, a bit thinner than we'd expect from the author of Grendel and occasionally descending to the level of adult archness ("Only the prince. . . remembered Chimarra's saying 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself [or something]"), but disarmingly witty and polished. In the title story (the most entertaining, with the Queen turning into a rose bush and the would-be hero selling brushes to the dragon), a cobbler's third son wins half a kingdom and rescues his less obedient older brothers simply by following his father's seemingly foolish advice--but in "The Miller's Mule" the advice-giving animal (an invariably benign agent of deliverance in folklore) is a malicious plotter bent on his hero's destruction. Elsewhere a timid tailor brings down the giant in spite of himself when he becomes so preoccupied with determining his guilt that he forgets his fear, and, in the mildly satirical "Last Piece of Light" where the people shrug off the growing darkness and the politicians furiously deny it, a Cinderella type saves the world (belatedly, though, for she forgets the magic spell for a number of gloomy years) from an old man who is stealing ail the light so that he can take over. A sparkle for classroom or family aloud.