The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (Vintage International)

Acclaim for
The Djinn in
the Nightingale’s Eye


“Masterful illustrations of the way a writer of Byatt’s sophistication can reclaim the magic simplicity of the short tale.”



“The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye
has the power to delight us with its clever knowingness, to charm us with invention … there is an aching beauty.”

Raleigh News & Observer


“Byatt’s got a big, generous imagination and she’s not afraid to use it.”



“An evening’s delight… just enough Turkish magic blended in to sweeten the bouquet.”

The Baltimore Sun


“Byatt weaves here a magical collection of stories.”

Denver Post


Also by


The Shadow of the Sun
The Game
The Virgin in the Garden
Still Life
Sugar and Other Stories
Possession: A Romance
Angels & Insects
The Matisse Stories
Babel Tower


Degrees of Freedom:
The Novels of Iris Murdoch
Unruly Times:
Wordsworth and Coleridge
Passions of the Mind:
Selected Writings
Imagining Characters
(with Ignês Sodré)

The Djinn in
the Nightingale’s Eye

A. S. Byatt is the author of
, winner of the Booker Prize and a national bestseller. She has taught English and American literature at University College, London, and is a distinguished critic and reviewer. Her other fiction includes
The Shadow of the Sun; The Game; The Virgin in the Garden; Still Life; Sugar and Other Stories; Angels & Insects; The Matisse Stories;
Babel Tower.
She has also published four volumes of critical work, of which
Imagining Characters
is the most recent. She lives in London.



For Cevat Çapan

The Glass Coffin



The Crystal Coffin
, H. J. Ford, 1892


here was once a little tailor, a good and unremarkable man, who happened to be journeying through a forest, in search of work perhaps, for in those days men travelled great distances to make a meagre living, and the services of a fine craftsman, like our hero, were less in demand than cheap and cobbling hasty work that fitted ill and lasted only briefly. He believed he should come across someone who would want his skills – he was an incurable optimist, and imagined a fortunate meeting around every corner, though how that should come about was hard to see, as he advanced farther and farther into the dark, dense trees, where even the moonlight was split into dull little needles of bluish light on the moss, not enough to see by. But he did come upon the little house that was waiting for him, in a clearing in the depths, and was cheered by the lines of yellow light he could see between and under the shutters. He knocked boldly on the door of this house, and there was a rustling, and creaking, and the door opened a tiny crack, and there stood a little man, with a face as grey as morning ashes, and a long woolly beard the same colour.

‘I am a traveller lost in the woods,’ said the little tailor, ‘and a master craftsman, seeking work, if any is to be found.’

‘I have no need for a master craftsman,’ said the little grey man. ‘And I am afraid of thieves. You cannot come in here.’

‘If I were a thief I could have forced my way in, or crept secretly in,’ said the little tailor. ‘I am an honest tailor in need of help.’

Now behind the little man stood a great grey dog, as tall as he was, with red eyes and hot breath. And at first this beast had made a low girning, growling sound, but now he hushed his threatening, and waved his tail slowly, and the little grey man said, ‘Otto is of the opinion that you are honest. You may have a bed for the night in return for an honest evening’s work, for help with cooking and cleaning and what must be prepared in my simple home.’

So the tailor was let in, and there was a strange household. In a rocking chair stood a brilliantly coloured cockerel and his pure white wife. In the fire-corner stood a black-and-white goat, with knobby little horns and eyes like yellow glass, and on the hearth lay a very large cat, a multi-coloured, mazy-patterned brindled cat, that looked up at the little tailor with eyes like cold green jewels, with black slits for pupils. And behind the dining table was a delicate dun cow, with milky breath and a warm wet nose and enormous soft brown eyes. ‘Good morning,’ said the tailor to this company, for he believed in good manners, and the creatures were surveying him in a judging and intelligent way.

‘Food and drink you will find in the kitchen,’ said the little grey man. ‘Make us a fit supper and we will eat together.’

So the little tailor turned to, and prepared a splendid pie, from flour and meat and onions he found there, and decorated its top with beautifully formed pastry leaves and flowers, for he was a craftsman, even if he could not exercise his own craft. And whilst it was cooking he looked about him, and brought hay to the cow and goat, golden corn to the cock and hen, milk to the cat and bones and meat from his cooking to the great grey dog. And when the tailor and the little grey man were consuming the pie, whose warm smell filled the little house, the little grey man said, ‘Otto was right, you are a good and honest man, and you care for all the creatures in this place, leaving no one unattended and nothing undone. I shall give you a gift for your kindness. Which of these things will you have?’

And he laid before the tailor three things. The first was a little purse of soft leather, which clinked a little as he put it down. The second was a cooking pot, black outside, polished and gleaming inside, solid and commodious. And the third was a little glass key, wrought into a fantastic fragile shape, and glittering with all the colours of the rainbow. And the tailor looked at the watching animals for advice, and they all stared benignly back. And he thought to himself, I know about such gifts from forest people. It may be that the first is a purse which is never empty, and the second a pot which provides a wholesome meal whenever you demand one in the right way. I have heard of such things and met men who have been paid from such purses and eaten from such pots. But a glass key I never saw or heard of and cannot imagine what use it might be; it would shiver in any lock. But he desired the little glass key, because he was a craftsman, and could see that it had taken masterly skill to blow all these delicate wards and barrel, and because he did not have any idea about what it was or might do, and curiosity is a great power in men’s lives. So he said to the little man, ‘I will take the pretty glass key.’ And the little man answered, ‘You have chosen not with prudence, but with daring. The key is the key to an adventure, if you will go in search of it.’

‘Why not?’ replied the tailor. ‘Since there is no use for my craft in this wild place, and since I have not chosen prudently.’

Then the animals came closer with their warm, milky breaths that smelled sweetly of hay and the summer, and their mild comforting gaze that was not human, and the dog lay with his heavy head on the tailor’s foot, and the brindled cat sat on the arm of his chair.

‘You must go out of this house,’ said the litde grey man, ‘and call to the West Wind, and show her your key, when she comes, and let her carry you where she will, without struggle or alarm. If you fight or question she will toss you on the thorns and it will go ill with you before you come out of there. If she will take you, you will be set down in a bare heath, on a great stone, which is made of granite and is the gate to your adventure, though it will seem to have been fixed and unmoving since the making of the world. On this stone you must lay a feather from the tail of the cockerel here, which he will willingly give you, and the door will be opened to you. You must descend without fear, or hesitation, and descend farther, and still descend; you will find that your glass key will shed light on your way if you hold it before you. In time you will come to a stone vestibule, with two doors leading to branching passages you must not follow, and a low curtained door leading on and downwards. You must not touch this curtain with your hand, but must lay on it the milk-white feather which the hen will give you, and the curtain will be opened silently, by unseen hands, and the doors beyond it will lie open, and you may come into the hall where you shall find what you shall find.’

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