Fiction Grimm Tales Omnivore

Published on September 9th, 2012


Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman

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Blurb: 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. (Penguin)

Adam Lively, The Sunday Times

In his introduction to this wonderful retelling of 50 stories from the early 19th century collection of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman identifies as their most important quality their swiftness… At the same time, as Pullman is well aware, these tales cannot be treated in a schematic or abstract manner: a retelling should be a highly particular performance. Pullman meets these subtle and potentially contradictory demands with a skill that seems effortless, but in fact conceals considerable cunning and craft.

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Christina Hardyment, The Independent

Psychoanaylsts have had a heyday interpreting the stories’ meanings. Pullman, however, is not interested in “sub-Jungian twaddle”. “There is no psychology in a fairy tale,” he declares in a short, hard-hitting introduction. “The characters have little interior life; their motives are clear and obvious.” What he is most interested in is what makes the tales work as stories … He likes retribution to be short and sharp, increasing the savagery of punishment on occasion. Logical inconsistencies have been tidied up with elegance. At the end of each tale, its type, source, and similar versions are listed; then comes a frank comment, sometimes critical or light-hearted, always thought-provoking.

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Paul Dunn, The Times

He is clear that these are not “texts”, that is, not fixed literary entities but the latest moment in a tradition, meaning he is not afraid to change and improve (“I have done little except to make the old woman’s gifts, of advice and of the cloak, a reward for the soldier’s charity,” he notes). Sometimes his imagination takes fuller flight. In his note to Hansel and Gretel: “The death of the stepmother is very convenient… Perhaps the father killed her. If I were writing this as a novel, he would have done.” And that is why these tales continue to spin their web.

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Sara Maitland, The Guardian

Pullman’s selection is fair and wide ranging and embraces most of the types of story. If it is distinctly thin on the more pious tales, that is hardly surprising … This collection is issued as a “classic”, so it is probably right to aim for a style free of the gothic extravagance of Angela Carter or the contemporary ethics of Jane Yolen or any other highly literary or individual interpretation, but for those who already know the stories this results in a collection which is very good, but not very interesting.

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