December 4, 2012

30 Books in 30 Days: "Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm," edited by Philip Pullman

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Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, by Philip Pullman

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Edited by Philip Pullman
Viking / Penguin

So here was a quick read I couldn't pass up when randomly coming across it at my neighborhood library the other day -- a new compilation of around 50 classic Grimm Brothers fairytales (some famous but most obscure), done for the 200th anniversary of these tales' first publications, edited and sometimes slightly authored by popular "Narnia for atheists" children's author Philip Pullman. "But wait," I hear you saying. "The Grimm Brothers tales are only two hundred years old?" And that of course is part of the problem with supposed "objective" history, and why such new collections are always occasionally welcome; because although the folk tales being told date all the way back to Europe's Middle Ages, the Grimms themselves were modern businessmen who lived in the Victorian Age, and simply the first people who ever thought of actually collecting up all these oral stories and finally committing them to paper, who even just two hundred years later many of us mistakenly conflate with the fictional "Mother Goose" and believe to be the actual Medieval authors of the tales themselves. And as Pullman explains in his illuminating introduction, this is why he too felt free to change some of the details in these stories for this new anthology, because this is exactly what the Grimms did as well, slightly altering the tales from one edition of their massive compendium to the next over the decades in order to better fit the changing morality that occurred over the course of the 19th century; and in fact one of the most interesting things about this book is that Pullman not only compares the various Grimm editions in his smart notes ending each story, but also compares them to the other compilers of fairytales in non-English countries that were going on at the same time, showing that in reality these stories represent a pan-European outlook that influenced the entire continent equally from the years 1000 to 1500, when the invention of movable type finally started bringing definitive linguistic and thus cultural barriers to the geographic lines separating these countries. In fact, about the only "problem" with this book is simply that this research and Pullman's notes tend to be more interesting than the stories themselves -- this is no McGuiresque modern re-imagining of the fairytales, but simply a stripped-down retelling of them, so as such will contain no real surprises to those already familiar with the stories. But that said, for those who have never actually read them before, this makes for a great introduction to the subject, a quickly paced and always interesting volume that most people will be able to finish in full in just a day or two.

Out of 10: 8.5

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:56 AM, December 4, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |