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Grimm Tales : For Young and Old by Philip Pullman

FairyTales from brother grimmGrimm tales for young and old

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).

Surprise, surprise!

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.

Rating: four stars

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.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


24 thoughts on “Grimm Tales : For Young and Old by Philip Pullman

  1. Oh I love the cover on the right it’s so creepy 😀 I’ve grown up with the original stories of course and bed-time was terribly exciting because my mother studied them in uni and had the the grown-up version as opposed to the more child-friendly one.I can understand more careful parents, but I can also honestly say that it did me no harm and that these tales are so rich and colorful that multiple rereadings are still fun. When I later watched Disney adaptations I was extremely disappointed 🙂
    Hope you have fun reading them to your boys, even if you have to change them a bit!

    Posted by Bina | January 8, 2013, 11:52 pm
  2. Yours is the first review that I’ve read on this one. I’ve been curious. Think I’d enjoy it based on your take; thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Diane@BibliophilebytheSea | January 9, 2013, 1:07 am
  3. Nice review, Jo! Great to know that Philip Pullman has come out with a new version of Grimm’s Fairytales. I read Grimm’s Fairytales for a course I did last year and I liked it very much. I read a edition which was published in the late 1800s though 🙂 Have you seen the TV series ‘Once Upon a Time’? It takes some of the fairytales and puts them in a continuous narrative set in the present world. It is quite well made and nice. Thanks for this wonderful review!

    Posted by Vishy | January 9, 2013, 5:42 am
    • Vishy,
      I recalled seeing ‘Once Upon a Time’ on TV menu but didn’t know what it is all about. I should try watching one if I can! It’s interesting to see Grimm brothers tales have endured the passage of time.

      Posted by JoV | January 9, 2013, 4:20 pm
  4. I downloaded the complete Grimm Fairy Tales to my kindle, I’m looking forward to reading them as I haven’t read them before.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | January 9, 2013, 9:37 am
    • Jessica,
      I downloaded it too. But it seems to have less than Pullman’s edition. Not sure if I got the right edition. I got 40 tales on Pullman’s but only half on the free Kindle copy?

      Posted by JoV | January 9, 2013, 4:21 pm
      • I have one ready to be read too, I meant the grimm tales. I don’t know how much story it has. I got it for free, so I am just happy to have it.

        I really like fantasy…silly one that doesn’t involve prince and princess. That ” fox that can talk” is the kind I like. I guess that’s why I fell in love instantly with a surreal comedy that has been filling my blog lately because it’s like bedtime story for adult. Talking gorilla, Arctic bear who wants to be hold, etc.

        Posted by Novroz | January 9, 2013, 5:52 pm
        • Novroz,
          Sometimes we do like to get away from reality (as it is harsh!) and back to the days when we were a child where animals talk and act like they are humans! I hope you enjoy the Grimm tales. Some you would have known it when you were a young child. 🙂

          Posted by JoV | January 11, 2013, 10:38 pm
      • I downloaded The Complete Brothers Grimm’s Fairytales by Acheron Press which was free but not sure if that was just a deal. According to the table of contents it has 200 stories in it!

        Posted by jessicabookworm | January 9, 2013, 5:57 pm
  5. Liked your review Jo! I’ve been mulling over this book for a while now I think you have just persuaded me to go out and buy it. It will have to be the edition on the right though! I find it interesting that these tales primarily aimed at children are enjoyed by so many adults.However I have noticed that some have been reworded and basically dumbed down. Take for example Jack and the Beanstalk. No longer can you buy a new edition with the words ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead I’ll grind his bones to make my bread. My autistic son loves these tales but cant accept that the words can be changed. I agree!! [[When he comes home I’ll be able to tell you what they write instead because I cant remember!]

    Posted by Julie | January 9, 2013, 2:27 pm
    • Hi Julie,

      ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum I smell the blood of an Englishman” is the favourite part of my 7-year-old and my 5-year-old sons!

      Oh… I hope they are not dumb down. Why would they do that?? Perhaps you get a better one from a higher reading level book? 🙂

      Posted by JoV | January 9, 2013, 4:53 pm
  6. Jo, The latest editions have the very scary words ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum. Look out everyone here I come’ Maybe its just not PC for a giant to grind bones to make bread. Food Standards Agency would have a field day LOL

    Posted by Julie | January 9, 2013, 6:54 pm
  7. JoV –
    I have been wondering about this book… definitely like the “re-engineer’ the stories term…lol.

    Have you tried the reviewer service called Edelweiss? They are a bit like netgalley and if you like to review new books they will probably send you updates where you can request galleys. Not sure they will work for your UK Kindle but give it a go!


    I find so many goodies there… I just need to read faster.
    Thanks for the goodread friendship!

    Posted by Shellie | January 9, 2013, 7:05 pm
    • Shellie,
      Oh perhaps I should check out Edelweiss. Thanks for letting me know. Half of me like free books, but the other half said I wouldn’t be able to review them all and I feel obligated to review if I request them. dilemma, dilemma, dilemma….

      Glad to have you in the goodread friendship. I’m late to the party!

      Posted by JoV | January 11, 2013, 10:43 pm
  8. I ve just read a collection of Czech folktales and fables that are coming out soon I did wonder how the would compare to the grimm tales ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | January 9, 2013, 9:05 pm


  1. Pingback: The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault by Angela Carter « JoV's Book Pyramid - January 26, 2013

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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