The new English version of the Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman has arrived just on time to make it in any book lovers’ and fairytale lovers’ Christmas list. The writer is famous for his economic and clear narrative style as well as his association with the magical realm. Pullman is also one of the few contemporary writers who have succeeded in writing cross-generational fiction.
For this collection the writer has chosen to re-tell 50 of the original Grimm stories. Of course if one takes into consideration the fact that the Grimm brothers recorded more than 200 stories, there is a big chance that some of your personal favorites might have been left out. Pullman’s selection has a wide range and he managed to effectively embrace most types of stories.
In his introduction to the book, Pullman goes over the oral tradition from which these stories originated from, but unlike others before him, he looks at the subject from a writer’s point of view. In doing that he urges us to respect these stories without worshiping them and he goes on to add that ‘telling these stories is a delight it would be a pity to spoil by anxiety.’ The anxiety he talks about is the worrying of inventing. According to the writer, the substance of the tales is already there, and in re-telling them, one should do so with a certain lightness. Pullman puts his theory in practice very successfully, adapting the tales to his audience, thus making the narrative stronger.
A great example of that is his version of Cinderella, where instead of the flat descriptions of the colors of her gown (gold and silver) in the Grimms’ version, Pullman goes a step further and describes them as the colors of starlight, moonlight and sunlight. Therefore not only he adds to the magical feeling of the story but he manages to reduce the passivity of Cinderella’s character. Another notable part of his re-tellings is the poems and jingles. His free versions, unlike the close translations, read as very authentic and fun.
His writing voice comes out clear through the writing so one can easily identify that those stories were written by Pullman, and even though he praises the Grimm brothers for choosing a very general tone for the tales and agrees with the economy of their writing, he himself added a lot of details. Following every story, Pullman provides the reader with a short commentary with details concerning the origins of the story as well as the main themes.
The collection is very good for anyone who is interested in fairytales but for those who have researched them or studied them a lot it might appear as not very interesting, especially when compared to Angela Carter’s versions. I would say that the book would certainly make a good read for someone new to fairytales who is interested in their origins, or even for someone who loves these stories and would like to read them again but if you are looking for a complete collection the Jack Zipes’s ‘The Complete Fairy Tales’ might be a better option.