Updated on August 5, 2015
47. ‘Grimm Tales for Young and Old’ by Philip Pullman
I was very excited when I saw that Philip Pullman had rewritten Grimm’s fairytales. First, because I was in the middle of Angela Carter’s ‘versions’ of fairytales, and so was intrigued to read yet another writer’s take on them. Second, because it’s Philip Pullman, for goodness sake; he of the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy that I adored as a teenager.
These aren’t as new and innovative as I was expecting: I suppose I was thinking he would do more of an Angela Carter and transform them or modernise them almost beyond recognition. But no, they remain quite similar to the originals in language and tone. What Pullman has done is pull all the different versions together, to create a definitive rendering of each story. After each one he has also done a short analysis of the major themes in the tale, or written about interesting variations of the stories.
Fairytales are more about what happens next, than character development. Pullman has highlighted how these stories strip away all superfluous details, leaving only the bare skeleton of the story. This isn’t a criticism, it’s a style: people don’t read fairytales for complex, engaging characters, they read them for the pure essence of story.
Pullman points out some of the major tropes of fairytales: everything comes in threes, the women (especially princesses) are always the most beautiful in the world, and later editions of old fairytales commonly turn mothers into stepmothers, perhaps as a way of dealing with these characters’ cruel actions.
My particular favourites in this collection are ‘The Fisherman and his Wife’, which is about a woman who gets carried away with the power of wishes and a weak-willed husband who doesn’t stop her. I also loved the story (the name escapes me) which features two friends who travel together and a sentence along the lines of, “Yeh, you can have some bread, in exchange for one of your eyes”. I laughed out loud at that one.
I certainly enjoyed reading this collection, although I was hoping for a little more originality. Still, if you want a fresh, simple and sometimes disturbing read, then you can’t get much better than this!
“Much ingenious interpretation of story is little more than seeing pleasing patterns in the sparks of a fire, but it does no harm.”
Thanks go once again to NetGalley for this one!
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?