An apple red as blood...

A poisoned apple, the needle of a spinning wheel, a trail of bread crumbs …

… these iconic images from Grimms’ fairy tales have stayed with us since they were first set down in 1812.  Other images of an iron man, a handless girl and a hedgehog boy may not be as familiar.  These tales and many more are retold through Philip Pullman in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version.

Using scholarly analysis, a critical eye and just plain wit, Philip Pullman retells the tales found in Kinder-und-Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) and makes “improvements” where he feels it’s necessary.  This may seem unfaithful to the original stories, but, as Pullman points out, all of these tales have been told and retold for centuries.  With each retelling the stories have been modified to suit the storyteller’s style, culture and audience.  That is still true today as seen in the popularity of twists on classic fairy tales in books, movies and television.  In fact, even within the Brothers’ collection there are stories which clearly draw from each other.  There’s no plagiarism when telling fairy tales.

Though discovering new tales (Jorinda and Joringel; The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs; Hans-my-Hedgehog) and rediscovering old favorites (Snow White; Rapunzel, Hansel & Gretel) have its own appeal, the real fun of reading this book often lies in the notes that follow each story.  Along with the Brother’s source for the tale, the scholarly fairy tale type and some critical views, lies Pullman’s own commentary.  Here you will learn about the colorful ways in which characters have died in other versions, whether that evil stepmother used to be an evil mother or how Pullman really feels about Hansel & Gretel’s father going unpunished for his crime.  Recommended as a thoroughly interesting and fun read for all those who were ever exposed to fairy tales (Disney or otherwise).


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