Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Grimm Tales for Young and Old

Author: Philip Pullman

Published: Sep 2012

What They Say:  In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and presents them in a 'clear as water' retelling, in his unique and brilliant voice. From the quests and romance of classics such as "Rapunzel", "Snow White" and "Cinderella" to the danger and wit of such lesser-known tales as "The Three Snake Leaves", "Hans-my-Hedgehog" and "Godfather Death", Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore, following with a brief but fascinating commentary on the story's background and history. In his introduction, he discusses how these stories have lasted so long, and become part of our collective storytelling imagination. These new versions show the adventures at their most lucid and engaging yet. Pullman's "Grimm Tales" of wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come

What Elaine Says: Will I never learn?  Pullman is an author that has enraged me with every book of his I've read (this is number 3) yet I keep going back to him.  It seems Pullman always finds a topic that I find irresistible and then proceeds to irritate the hell out of me.  After being burned twice ("Northern Lights" I loathed and "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ" was very good up until Pullman's, frankly arrogant, afterword) I swore I would never touch another Pullman book.  That is until he decided to tackle the world of Fairy Tales.

I love fairy tales. Chaotic, disarming and rather twisted Fairy Tales appear to promise access to the meaning of life and then lead you straight into the woods (no pun intended) where it's dark and rather confusing.  Fairy Tales, in short, are messy.

Pullman, in his wisdom, has decided that this simply wont do.  To quote the Times Literary Supplement (and who wouldn't?)
"Pullman actively scrubs and caulks, bends the timbers and adds supports. His book is a showpiece of the “neatness and clarity” he is aiming for, with notes on the stories that give odd glimpses into his often vehement reactions.”"  *
In doing this he has taken any charm and, in my opinion, any heart out of the stories and left in their place 50 well formed yet vacuous works of fiction. 

It's not all bad though.  There are two redeeming features about this book for me:

One is that at the end of each story there are paragraphs referencing the varying narratives of the tale and explaining why Pullman felt the need to 'improve' on them. This is an interesting little addition and probably the reason I persevered.

Two is that cover.  Look at it. Just beautiful.  Quite possibly my favourite book cover in a long time.

All in all this was yet another infuriating encounter with Pullman for me.  Never has an author frustrated me so yet kept me coming back. I can safely say though that THIS was the last straw.  Until next time that is.

*You can read the full Times Literary Supplement article here.

Elaine's Rating: 4/10  

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