Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman
Penguin Classics: hardback published 2012: 421 pages
In this enchanting selection of fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman presents his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm in a ‘clear as water’ retelling, making them feel fresh and unfamiliar with his dark, distinctive voice.
From the otherworldly romance of classics such as ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ to the black wit and strangeness of such lesser-known tales as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-my-Hedgehog’ and ‘Godfather Death’, Pullman captures the appeal that has held the imagination of readers for centuries, following each tale with a brief and fascinating commentary on the story’s background and history. In his introduction, he discusses why these stories have lasted so long, and become part of our collective storytelling imagination.
Pullman’s Grimm Tales of wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come.
In honesty, I don’t really buy hardback books. I prefer to wait for the paperback – mostly on price grounds – so it was a little surprise to myself that I decided to fork out for the hardback of this book. There was a motive however… on Monday I will be going to the Cambridge Theatre to see Philip Pullman discussing fairytales with Neil Gaiman (cue over-exciting fan girl squeaking).
There isn’t a huge amount I can say about this book – it pretty much does what it says on the tin. After each fairytale, Pullman tells you a bit of the history around the story and also what he brought to it (or didn’t). I described it on Twitter as a “wonderful, magical book”, and there’s honestly no other words to describe it.
I’ve never read any of the Grimm’s fairytales before. I know the Disney versions and the watered-down films and adaptations of course, but never the real stuff. Reading them now – with all those films behind me – I think I found these tales even more fascinating. I began to recognise certain stories that have bled into other adaptations; certain ways of writing or even just the names were like old friends. They are the same time comforting and completely unexplored – imagine going back to your favourite book, and finding the story is just a little bit different, yet exactly the same. It’s a nice feeling.
What’s also interesting is the use of the language, and how familiar yet archaic it seems. There is a distinctive tone to fairytales, and Pullman has captured it in a new way, without losing its integrity.
If I could wax lyrical about this book for hours, I would. Instead, I’m going to stop. If I said any more it would get awkward, and I want you to discover the magic of this book by yourself!
No matter what genre you like to read, or even if you like to read at all (though I expect you do if you’re reading a writing/book blog like this), I want to tell you to read this book. More than anything, it’s so beautifully created.
Next book: I had the very good fortune to spend an evening in the pub (roaring fire, dog lying in front of it, beer and beer mat pyramids) with my uncle – who is over from New Zealand – having a Serious Discussion about Decent Literature. Put it this way – whether maternal side or paternal side, my family are obscenely clever, and my uncle is no different. Even better, he has the same passion about language and literature that I do, which means when we discuss Decent Literature, it can get very heated and over excited. In this instance, it got very over excited around fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk and urban fantasy writing. “Have you read Mervyn Peake?” uncle cried. As a matter of fact, I haven’t. But I do have a copy of The Gormenghast Trilogy sitting on my shelves. After listening my uncle proclaim the brilliance of Titus Groan and Peake’s writings, I simply had to pick it up. Therefore – after a very long-winded explanation – I can announce that my next book is… The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake.