How long have I last read a fable? Not since I was in primary school and that was sooooooooo… long ago! What about you?
So when I saw Netgalley was offering a review copy, I requested from both Penguin USA and UK, UK rejected me, USA sent me an Kindle ARC copy (Can you tell which is which from the above copy, without checking the Internet?). Feeling warm and fuzzy with gratitude, I decided to officiate the first use of my new Kindle with this book.
My first encounter with Grimm Tales
Before reading this book, my two little boys are the ones who refresh my memory on tales from the Grimm brothers, telling me about stories that they read or learnt from school. I thought to myself once I read this edition of Grimm tales I may be able to tell a few newer ones to my boys since the book showcases 40 short tales in total. Boy, was I so wrong! Because these tales in its original form are actually quite dark and grim (grim, Grimm, staying true to the grimness of it all!) and I will tell you why.
Hansel and Grethel, Snow White, the Brave Little Tailor, Cinderella, Briar Rose (which is better known as Sleeping Beauty), Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Frog King (better known as Princess and the Frog), Rumpelstiltskin are some of the ones that I remembered. My first introduction to Grimm tales was from these Grimm Fairy Tales ladybird series. I own the same edition as Simon did (except for Jack and the Beanstalk and Chicken Licken).
In some of the better known tales, I still find a great many surprises there. Do you know Rapunzel is a name of a lamb lettuce, sort of a type of parsley? Rapunzel was pregnant with a child of the Prince who climbed up the window for their many clandestine meetings! In later versions, Wilhelm Grimm altered the story about the pregnancy and have Rapunzel asking why the witch is harder to pull than the young prince. Pullman did not think this is an improvement to the story but it makes Rapunzel looked stupid instead of innocent. I must say I agree with Pullman. In Cinderella, there is no fairy godmother. Cinderella is dressed by the magic hazel tree with the colour of its leaves, and provided with a silken slippers. And it took Cinderella three (not one) invitations to the ball before she lost one of her shoes! The Prince couldn’t recognise her after all these balls he and Cinderella both attended (*rolling eyes!*) and Snow White was so stupid that she was framed by the evil queen twice before she finally bite the poison apple.
All story tellers put their own personal spin in it…
As Philip Pullman aptly said the story “…tellers vary in their talents, their techniques, their attitudes to the process”. Back in the days when the main method of story telling was an oral one rather than written one, the stories are told in varied form and differ slightly from one person to the next. Have you tried telling stories to your children and discover you could never tell the same stories twice?
At the end of each story Pullman offers a small commentary. I enjoy reading his thoughts on each short story. In one of the story about 12 brothers who have to be exiled to the forest when their sister is born, by the curse of the King’s mother, which first appeared in German as “Mutter” (Mother) and then, a few sentences later, Stiefmutter (Stepmother), as if correcting an earlier slip of the tongue. Which is she? mother or stepmother? This is not the only time the vague distinction of mother and stepmother have appeared in this story; which seems to suggest that when the tale was told, it was intended for a biological mother to be cruel to her own flesh and blood. I was disturbed to read in Hansel and Gretel that their father was a collaborator and turned a blind eye to the stepmother’s decision to led Hansel and Gretel astray in the dark and sinister wood!!
I am not a good improviser on story telling, so there were many tales in Grimm brothers that I thought was not appropriate for my sons and I have to “re-engineer” before any of these can be told to them. The point is the Grimm tales are amoral. They should be read without any judgement of right or wrong, good or bad. They are just a story and that is all there is. The storyteller and the listener have to decide what they want to think about some of these bizarre things that are happening in the story.
Everything happens so quickly, it is wonderful…
Grimm tales are great for an impatient person like me because: Everything happens so quickly. For example in the story Bremen (The donkey who decided to gather animal friend to become a band of musicians), the first paragraph said:
Once there was a man who had a donkey, and for years this donkey carried sacks of grain to the mill without a word of complaint; but now his strength was running out, so he couldn’t work as hard as he used to, and his master thought it was time to stop feeding him. The donkey noticed this and didn’t like it a bit, so he ran away and looked for the road to Bremen. His plan was to become a town musician.
Look at how much one paragraph convey? From a donkey who couldn’t work as hard and the decision of his master prompted him to become town musician… all in one paragraph. In the modern tale, you can spin this paragraph into a whole chapter. I just thought it is refreshing for once to read a paragraph with so much happening.
Fairy tales are preposterous. There is fish who can grant wishes (Story 8: The Fisherman and His Wife), a boy who decides to marry the girl if the boot holds water. (Story 8: The Three Little Men in the Woods), fox that can talk (Story 28 – The Golden Bird). If you can stop using your grown-up brain and stop analysing everything we read (like me!), you may relive your childhood and come out enjoying this collection of Grimm tales a little bit more.
Kindle copy. Hardcopy Printed Length: 432 pages. Publisher: Penguin Classics 2012. Source: Netgalley . Setting: Fairy tales. Finished reading at: 22nd December 2012, Saturday.
A big thanks to Penguin book USA for sending me the review copy.