Kirsten Reviews: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

, by Kt Clapsadl

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
 
Two hundred years ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now, at a veritable fairy-tale moment—witness the popular television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and this year’s two movie adaptations of “Snow White”—Philip Pullman, one of the most popular authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

From much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “Briar-Rose,” “Thousandfurs,” and “The Girl with No Hands,” Pullman retells his fifty favorites, paying homage to the tales that inspired his unique creative vision—and that continue to cast their spell on the Western imagination.


Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm, a retelling by Philip Pullman includes many stories that will be familiar to audiences raised on a glut of pop culture and fantasy storytelling. That isn’t a point against this newest collection, in fact it makes the freshness of these tales all the more apparent. In choosing 50 classics, some more well known than others, Pullman has introduced these stories to people who are already in the right frame of mind to think of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Strong Hans with a different mindset.

Anybody familiar with Pullman’s work, such as “the Golden Compass” may be hesitant, and concerned that he may make ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ a long ramble, but they shouldn’t worry. In keeping with the original style, Pullman wastes no time in shoving readers squarely into woods, castles, or wherever else a character’s story is being told. There isn’t time to dwell on whether or not Gretel really likes to do math, this is a book of people doing things, and Pullman makes small edits, such as shifting characters to earlier in the story, or snipping out lines that in translation, have only ever hung around like streamers ten days after a party. The result is fairy tales that expect the reader to catch up and pay attention.

Details not in many renditions of ‘Snow White,’ such as the Queen eating a liver and lungs that she thinks belong to the young woman will catch some readers off guard, but they should remember that these stories were not meant to enchant readers, but to warn them about the dangers of the world. And, after all, people enjoy blood, guts, and horror, so long as they can walk away from it afterward. It’s about time that the Grimm Brothers’ collection was again recognized as full of some creepy, and interesting characters.

As an interesting addition, Pullman shares each story’s classification in the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index, which is a list of plot patterns in the narrative structure of traditional stories. He also includes any information available about the person who originally shared the story with the Grimm Brothers, and names of any other versions. In some cases he even gives his own analysis, or explains his translation choices. For example, Pullman explains that in ‘The Girl With No Hands,’ while fairy tales have elements of fantasy, some are just preposterous. He goes on to say that ‘This tale and others like it must have spoken very deeply to many audiences, though, for it to spread so widely, or perhaps a great many people like stories of maiming, cruelty, and sentimental piety.’

Anybody looking to revisit these stories with fresh eyes, or read something to kids who like to be scared before bed will enjoy this book, although kids will be disappointed that there aren’t any pictures, even if their imaginations will conjure up far more frightening images. But, these stories don’t need illustrations, they’re lively, twisted, and entertaining all by themselves.

(Received a copy from the publisher)

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