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A retelling of magical tales

Storytelling here is  at its simplest and best

By Emily Jennings

The Free Lance-Star

VERY few activities feed the imagination better than fairy tales, regardless of our number of years on earth. Storytelling is magic itself, for the teller and the listener; it can inspire fear or courage, compassion or disgust, inquiry or invention, adding depth and richness to our human experience.

Philip Pullman’s “Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm” is the latest re-telling of many magical stories originally assembled 200 years ago by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in “Children’s and Household Tales,” and is an excellent bicentennial commemoration of their work.

Pullman, well-known for “His Dark Materials” trilogy, selected 50 favorite fairy tales for this new edition from  the 200 first appearing in the Grimms’ 1812 classic. Included are all the old favorites, “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rapunzel,” “Snow White,” “Rumplestiltskin” and others.

Less familiar are stories like “Faithful Johannes,” who is turned to stone for saving his king, and  “The Girl With No Hands,” who suffers so patiently her hands are given back to her.  Nearly all include some violence, true to the original stories, but also true in that any violence is simply stated and not dwelled upon, and could easily be edited out for any sensitive listeners.

In his introduction to  “Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm,” Pullman wrote that he thinks of fairy tales as “not text” in the way that literary originals are. In his opinion, this allows a storyteller a little more freedom.

“Each tale is a snapshot of a thing in flight.” Of a story that was told to Jacob or Wilhelm on a morning or afternoon in 1811… They wrote it down, fiddled with it a bit, and altered it even more in subsequent editions.” He compares it to jazz—you start with some basic chords, but improvise as you go.

Pullman’s improvisation

of these stories is solid and simple, with just enough embellishment to spark the imagination. The original characters have no back story, very little investigation into motives, and Pullman remains true to that style. The stories move along quickly, by their nature urging the reader to share the story aloud with others, adults or children, whoever happens to be around.

Particularly helpful are Pullman’s notes at the end of each story. He lists the tale type and its source, similar stories both from the Grimms and from other cultures, and Pullman’s own comments on the story, which are sometimes insightful, sometimes disputable, but always interesting.

The only omission  I found was that such a fabulous new collection simply cries out for illustrations—there are none. A few imaginative pictures would have truly completed the collection.

Albert Einstein said: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” If that is true, Philip Pullman’s “Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm” is a good place to start.

Emily Jennings  is on the newsroom staff of The Free Lance–Star.

FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM

By Philip Pullman

(Viking, $27.95, 400 pp.)

 

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/books/2012/12/18/a-retelling-of-magical-tales/

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