November 13, 2012

Review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Fairy Tales By Philip Pullman
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
Review copy
Don't forget to enter the giveaway and read the excerpt

I am a fairytale geek.  I am crazy about them and have been since I was a wee child.  I keep various anthologies on my shelf, including the complete Grimm, some Russian tales, and Jack Zipes' fantastic French fairy tale translations.  When I heard Philip Pullman was coming out with a collection, I knew I needed it.

FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM: A New English Version lives up to my expectations.  The selected tales cover both the extremely popular ("Cinderella") and the obscure ("The Stolen Pennies").  Thus reading the anthology straight through is a mix of rediscovering old favorites and being surprised by stories you don't really remember (or have never read before).  I will admit to skipping around rather than following Pullman's order, but I think FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM works either way.  And I was definitely keeping track of which stories would be best to read aloud to the niece and nephew.

Pullman doesn't pull back from the stories' gorier moments and doesn't cut earthier references, but he doesn't play them up either.  People might be thrown in barrels full of nails and rolled into the sea, but there's no visceral descriptions of violence.  The sexual references tend to be symbolic and nothing that will cause any kiddies to ask strange questions about the birds and the bees.  Basically, I think these retellings will work for kids and adults, which is fitting for fairytales.

I loved the brief notes at the end of each story.  He includes the attribution of the stories and rightfully adds to the Grimm brothers' praise of the talented Dorothea Viehmann.  It's nice to see her contribution extensively praised in a major collection.  Pullman explains in a few paragraphs why he chose to include certain episodes, or why he thought certain phrases were the best translation for the story.  I generally feel like he accomplished the goal he laid out in the Introduction: to tell these fairy tales with a focus on story.  The only time I was thrown out of a tale was when he used the phrase "weapon of mass destruction" which felt far too modern to me.

Fans of fairytales can safely flock to FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM.  Pullman is an incredible author who I usually think of as detailed and somewhat convoluted.  But in this collection he restrains himself and tells the fairytales in a concise manner, keeping his language simple instead of overwhelming these familiar stories with his distinctive voice.  But that isn't to say the tales are plain - Pullman has a knack for a memorable turn of phrase.

Basically, FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM is everything I'd hoped it would be.  It's difficult for me to be objective about fairytales, so I'd've been very disappointed if this collection wasn't any good.  And I think it's terrific.


  1. Can't wait to read this one, as I'm a huge fairy tale geek myself. So glad to hear you think it's terrific!

  2. L - you might like this review of Pullman's collection as well as Sara Maitland's book from the LAT Online Review of Books:

    I'm currently reading the original Grimms tales - love how dark the earliest ones were.

    1. Thanks for the link! It's a great review, and Maitland's collection sounds interesting too. I'm not surprised its by Jack Zipes - I loooooove his work.

      I like the original tales too, although reading them all at once is a grueling task. I find particularly intriguing the cultural values that have changed - namely, how much the anti-Semitic tales stick out from their brethren.

  3. I have this one as well...need to start going through the stories! I don't think I'd read it all the way through. Sounds like a book I'd enjoy more if I just randomly read a story here and there. I'm glad you loved this one, especially being such a huge fairytale fan. makes me more excited.


    1. That's a perfectly fine way to read it! Sometimes you just want one story.

  4. Oh, Liviania, WOW. I can't admit to being as big a fairy tale nut as you, but I've always loved them, and the darker, the more real, the less Disney, the better. I grew up reading and re-reading a book of my Mum's Aesop's Fables, the darker, squickier Little Mermaid and Bluebeard and Diamands and Toads (Bluebeard and D&T = totally my faves) and... WOW. I am SO excited for this ♥

    1. Oh man, the Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid really got to me as a kid. My copy had such pretty illustrations but it was all pain and knives and sea foam. Bluebeard is one of my favorite tales too - I even wrote a version of it recently!

      You'll probably enjoy Pullman's take on Grimm. ^_^


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