Philip Pullman answers that question with his Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version (Viking, 2012). First off, Pullman, who created the popular and beloved His Dark Materials series that started with The Golden Compass, knows how to weave a tale or two of his own. Second, the Grimm brothers collected dozens of fairy tales that are not as well known but just as delightful as those listed above. And third, Pullman has researched and lists other similar fairy tales known in other cultures that adds to the appreciation of these tales.
Pullman starts with an introduction about brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who were born in Germany in the late 1700s and began collecting and publishing tales in the 1800s. Pullman talks about the popularity of tales at the time, and he paints a picture of what it was like for listeners to hear them. He also makes a case for fairy tales as being meant to be added to and improved upon depending on the teller and the times they are told in. I really got an appreciation for how modern adaptations fit right into the spirit of fairy tale construction.
I really enjoyed reading each tale, then looking for Pullman’s comments at the end. In them, he noted any changes he may have made and why as well as cited similar tales told in other countries. For instance “Mount Simeli,” is similar to “The Story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Killed by a Slave Girl” from The Arabian Nights, and “The Robber Bridegroom” has connections to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Also a plus for reading the book is the length of the stories. Most are short and easily digested before bedtime or easy to read aloud at any time. But even though the stories are fairy tales, children would probably not appreciate the explanations or many of the tales themselves, which tend to be a bit more violent than the toned down versions found in popular culture. While thoroughly delightful, I believe Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm is best suited for young adult and adult readers.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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WongKaiWen, December 25, 2012 (view all comments by WongKaiWen)
This book is a beautiful collection of fairy tales, from the standards to the oft forgotten. I enjoyed seeing the familiar tropes repeated time and time again: the sets of three, the clever tailors, the shape changers and sheep herders, the princes in disguise, and the happily ever afters. Pullman breaks down each story, alerting to what he has cleaned up, and sharing similar stories from other collections of tales, which gives the reader context as well as enjoyment.
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monahobo, November 16, 2012 (view all comments by monahobo)
I may be 70 years old, but reading Pullman's book made my hackles rise just as they did when I first heard the tales of hapless children suddenly turning clever when stalked by witches, wolves, giants and trolls, and most frightening of all, their own evil parents.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Pullman (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ) celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Grimm brothers' first fairy tale collection in this collection of 50 tales, which draws from all seven original Grimm editions as well as other versions and Pullman's own imagination. (He opens with a Tuscan proverb by way of Calvino that 'the tale is not beautiful if nothing is added to it.') Favorites like 'Cinderella' and 'Rumpelstiltskin' become just slightly bloodier, but all retain their old-fashioned feel. Pullman also resurrects tales of the Devil's odd bargain with a soldier ('Bearskin') and a girl who faces an enchanted lion ('The Singing, Springing Lark'). Smooth narration makes every tale accessible while keeping the mystical and lyrical qualities that make fairy tales so beloved. Afterwords provide bibliographic and scholarly information. Readers will enjoy not only returning to European fantasy's roots but seeing how the tree still blooms. Agent: Jamie Byng, Canongate. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by The New Statesman,
"Once in a lifetime a children's author emerges who is so extraordinary that the imagination of a generation is altered. Lewis Carroll, E. Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, and Tolkein were all of this cast. So, too, is Philip Pullman."
by Booklist (starred review),
"A wonderfully rich reading experience....Stylish in its simplicity [and with] a salutary clarity and directness....In addition to his elegant introduction, [Pullman] concludes each tale with his own always interesting commentary....There are, of course, any number of English-language versions and editions of Grimm, but few are as felicitous in their telling as Pullman's. His book surely belongs on the same shelf as the very best of those that appeal to general readers of all ages."
by Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation,
"You didn't know you needed to reread Grimm. You do. This is a grand and a great book. With confidence and modesty alike, Pullman adds just enough Pullman to remind us that the oldest stories are always best told by someone who knows how to do the job of storytelling. No grandstanding here, no posturing or poesy-making. Pullman selects familiars and exotics, and gives us the goods anew — the ashes never grittier, the golden shoes never more lively, and the teller's notes concise, witty, scholarly even. Older Grimms' — put them on the top of the bookcase. This one needs to be closer to hand. I read it ravenously, rapturously."
by Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead,
"I could not imagine a better emissary for the Brothers Grimm than Philip Pullman. His translations have the timeless quality of a voice speaking in a quiet room, at once ancient and immediate to the senses. What a pleasure it is to be reacquainted with these stories in all their swiftness, wonder, horror, and charm."
by Jack Zipes, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota,
"Philip Pullman's Grimm is quite eloquent, and his commentary is witty and historically accurate. There is no doubt in my mind that the Grimms would have been delighted with what he has accomplished."
by Maria Tatar, Harvard University; author of The Classic Fairy Tales,
"In this pitch-perfect retelling of the Grimms' fairy tales, Philip Pullman reminds us that the stories have lost none of their relevance or racing energy, even two hundred years after they were written down. As storyteller and sage, he preserves the flavors and aromas of fine, old wines from times past and delivers them to us in sparkling new bottles."
by Harold Bloom,
"I've admired Philip Pullman since his early fantasy Galatea on through the splendid trilogy His Dark Materials. All of his gifts, including his prose eloquence, and his endless high Romantic imagination, are manifested in this marvelous retelling of Grimm."
#1 New York Times bestseller Philip Pullman retells the world’s best-loved fairy tales on their 200th anniversary
Two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now Philip Pullman, one of the most accomplished authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.
Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves," "Godfather Death" and "The Girl with No Hands." At the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they've taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.
Suffused with romance and villainy, danger and wit, the Grimms' fairy tales have inspired Pullman's unique creative vision — and his beguiling retellings will draw you back into a world that has long cast a spell on the Western imagination.
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