23 February 2013

Book Review: Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman

I normally do not read anthologies: I do read short story collections, but if you look at my list of book reviews, they are few and far between. I still like the novel as a literary medium, so I rarely deviate from it. However, this tome was given to me as a present, and so it went to my reading list. Surprisingly enough, I was pleased, and overall I was glad to have gotten the chance to read it.

This anthology contains about 420 pages of folk tales as collected by the brothers Grimm. However, as indicated by the title, it was retold by Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy (I haven’t read them, I’ve only seen the movie based on the first book, and I liked it, but my general dislike of the fantasy genre has always prevented me from buying the book). As they are folk tales, there exist several versions of it, but Pullman basically picks out a version that is the most literarily sound, and provides comments about other versions and other analyses after every tale. So as much as this book is an anthology, it is also a commentary to Grimm’s collection of fairy tales.

Hence, after reading every tale, the reader (in this case, me) also got to learn about the various variations and storylines that exist, and are similar, to the current tale. Sometimes, an analysis is allso provided, especially when there is heavy symbolism that is involved. Pullman goes all the way sometimes to analyze the story and tell you how he likes or dislikes one, or how a particular tale is very atypical, and so forth. Hence, even though every story is a fairy tale, it also reads like one is learning about Pullman’s opinions about these tales.

I am not providing a plot for this book. After all, it is an anthology, and we know most of these tales, as some of us grew up liking them. There’s Disney, after all, and these tales can easily be spun into something that ends happily ever after. However, unlike the Disney version, sometimes, these tales can be outright gory. Oh one could only imagine the horror of cutting one’s foot with a knife until it bleeds, just in order to fit the glass shoe of Cinderella.

There are a few common themes and archetypes across the stories. Somehow, the character of the wicked stepmother is very common. Characters can be either very good or very bad; in the case of women, it’s either a wicked stepmother or a witch, or a damsel in distress or a princess. For men, it’s usually good kings or huntsmen, or robbers. Somehow, it’s always the women who have the bad magical powers, though. I wonder what this means.

Overall, I loved this book. It has given me a fresh anthropological look to these folk tales, as previously, they were all just children’s stories to me. I am glad that I had the chance to read this book, as it provided me a nice literary stroll to the folk stories of the country I am currently living in. Additionally, perhaps one thing I like about anthologies is that every story has an ending, which then gives the reader some opportunity to ruminate and ponder about it. I like that. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(Boat, from my Art Institute of Chicago Series)

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