Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
by: Philip Pullman
In honor of the 200th anniversary of the Grimms’ collection, Philip Pullman – I hesitate to say rewrote – lightly touched up 50 of their fairy tales. Fairy tales are always welcome in my life, so I was really excited about this, even though I’m not a huge Pullman fan. And I was very much not disappointed. I liked his selection, though it lacked in female tricksters. (They’re out there! They just never quite made it to America.) It did include many of my favorites, like “Thousandfurs,” “The Frog King, or Iron Hendricks,” and “The Fisherman and his Wife.” Of course, it did lack my favorite version of “Red Riding Hood” but that is the French version, so it isn’t terribly reasonable to expect it. He does a great job of incorporating classics – Disney movie material – with less well-known tales which don’t always make it into the American versions. A few of the tales I don’t remember seeing before, which is impressive because I have read many different Grimm brothers collections.
To the tales themselves, Pullman does very little. The dialogue feels a little more modern than the versions I’ve read before, but in an engaging way. I never felt jarred out of the story by modern phrases but I also didn’t struggle to get the connotations of the dialect the way I have sometimes with more traditional versions. If he modified the tales, he notes it in the short paragraphs he wrote to follow every tale.
Oh. Those paragraphs. Well, those are the reason to buy this version instead of another. Pullman follows every tale with a short analysis. Sometimes it’s as simple as noting a pleasing structure to the tale or attributing it to its source. Sometimes it’s giving a historical perspective, such as noting the source of the Grimm brothers’ tales was most often middle class, educated people rather than the peasant folk. In “Thousandfurs” he proposes an additional to the (rather unsatisfying, I suppose) ending. (By the way, if you like “Thousandfurs” you should read Deerskin by Robin McKinley, which turns the tale into a disturbing but excellent novel.) Sometimes he adds historical perspective, talks about different versions of the tale – in “Hansel and Gretel” he notes that the earlier versions of the story had the mother trying to be rid of her children, not the stepmother – or speculates upon the moral, but all of his information is well-presented, relevant, and correct.
I say it’s correct because I took a class on fairy tales my senior year in college-liberal arts education for the win!-and many of the topics he touches upon we discussed in some depth over the course of the semester. Of course, I’m no expert, but I do recall my professor lecturing about much of what he states. So this book not only brings you fairy tales, but it serves as a light introduction to several topics of interest that lie behind the study of fairy tales.
Anyway, it’s a really excellent book if you’re interested in the brothers Grimm’s collection or think you might want to learn a little bit about fairy tales beyond the tale. But it’s definitely a special interest book, so if you’re not into fairy tales but are into Philip Pullman, I say no, as you see none of his fiction writing here and very little of his style. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you want to read this book, I recommend getting it from a library or going to your local bookstore and reading through 2 or 3 of your favorite tales and their afterwords before making your decision.