‘Swiftness is a great virtue in the fairy tale. All we need is the word “Once…” and we’re off’
Fairy tales are an important part of our cultural heritage.We grow up surrounded by tales of brilliant magic and strange adventures and this has a profound effect on us as we develop. To be able to look to old stories in times of hardship and remember that as long as the good remain good a happy ending is always possible can be very inspiring. In fairy tales, no matter how fantastic the plot there is always an underlying, obvious message to take away. That can be quite comforting in a sense and is especially useful as a storytelling device.
The Grimm brothers are possibly some of the most famous compilers of fairy tales in European Folklore history. The first volume of their Kinder- und Hausmarchen was published in 1812 and since then the name Grimm has been intrinsically and irrevocably linked to fairy tales. The Grimm’s tales have been incredibly popular since publication and writer Philip Pullman puts this down to the relatable, simple and understandable stock characters, the speed of the tales, clear plots without the clutter of unnecessary tracts of descriptions and the fact the stories come directly from a strong oral tradition that makes them straightforward yet lively and entertaining.
In this volume, Pullman has collected 53 of his favourite Grimm tales and added his own unique, witty commentary where he outlines the interesting aspects of each tale and any potential shortcomings. This is particularly interesting as it encourages the reader to think about the story in more depth than one normally would. It’s especially intriguing when Pullman describes the improvements he would make to the story as it allows the reader to engage more fully with the tales by moving beyond what is written down and considering what the story is trying to say and how it could do so more effectively.
It also helps the reader to examine the arcs of the story and whether or not they are complete. For example, in Pullman’s addition to the tale ‘Thousandfurs’ he insists that, for him, the story is only half finished and proposes an extension that uses the villain and theme of incest to a more complete degree by having Thousandfurs father reappear instead of just disappearing into the forgotten background of her happily ever after. This is noteworthy because it is one of the main reasons why this volume works so well; Pullman is such a brilliant writer that his take on the tales are always well thought out, fascinating and give the reader a new perspective on old stories.
All in all I really enjoyed reading this volume and found the book incredibly easy to get through. Pullmans insights add a new appeal to the Grimms tales and his choice is perfect. There wasn’t a single story in the entire collection that I didn’t find diverting and enjoyable. Whether I knew it before or whether it was entirely new to me, the stories were captivating and held my attention from beginning to end. Although obviously most of the credit has to go to the Grimm brothers who originally spent so much time and energy compiling multiple editions of their tales to preserve the oral folk tales that were so popular at the time. I would definitely recommend this volume to anyone who likes the Grimms tales and who wants a new perspective to consider.