Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Last year was a busy time work-wise. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been a bit quiet over here as I took some time off, but I think things will be better now that things have settled down for the new year and I‘ve had a breather. This is a long overdue review!

My copy of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm was provided to me for review from the publisher.

The Premise: The Grimm Brothers’ Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), which we know today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, is a collection of 210 stories first published in 1812. Now, 200 years later, Phillip Pullman retells a subset of these – 50 fairy tales which he calls “the cream” of the collection.

My Thoughts: Philip Pullman is known for His Dark Materials and other books (like the Sally Lockhart mysteries) so I thought that maybe his retelling of Grimm’s Fairy Tales would mean creative reinterpretations of the stories. I was a bit surprised, but also relieved, that these retellings are straightforward and keep the original stories intact. In his introduction, Pullman writes:

“[...] my main interest has always been in how the tales worked as stories. All I set out to do in this book was tell the best and most interesting of them, clearing out of the way anything that would prevent them from running freely. I didn’t want to put them in modern settings, or produce personal interpretations or compose poetic variations on the originals; I just wanted to produce a version that was as clear as water. “

So there you have it. Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm is exactly as the subtitle to this book, A New English Version, suggests: 50 stories told in a clear manner.  This makes it a little harder for me to review because these stories are true to the originals, and you can’t really review a classic fairy tale – they just are. So instead the focus of this review is going to be how they were presented. To tell you the truth, I found very little to complain about.

Pullman’s selections are good ones. He chose a lot of old and familiar stories, like Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel, but he also selects some that are less well-known like The Girl with No Hands and Hans-my-Hedgehog. There are also stories that I had personally never heard of at all, like The Singing Bone and The Donkey Cabbage. I also felt like there was some thought that went into where the stories were placed in the compilation, with stories that were of a similar sort of type grouped together, but not so much that you had too much of one kind of thing.  For example, some of the more pious stories were near one another, at least enough for me to see a theme, but they weren’t all in the same place, and The Juniper Tree was close enough to Snow White for me to notice the similarity of children with lips as red as blood and skin as white as snow, even if Pullman doesn’t really mention the link.

At the end of each of the stories, Pullman devotes a couple of paragraphs for notes and observations. This is probably my favorite thing about the collection. When I was growing up, I remember going to the library and reading a lot of fairy tales, but I approached them as a reader. Pullman does this too, commenting on whether a story works and his take on holes in the stories (like characters that were mentioned once and then we never find out what happened to them). I could completely relate to this, and had the same reaction to many of the things Pullman points out (it feels very good to be on the same page as Philip Pullman). But Pullman also approaches the stories from a more scholarly standpoint. From his notes, I could gather that he read the original editions of the Grimm books, as well as later ones, commenting on the translation of the German into English, and how a mother in an earlier version became a step-mother in a later one. He also prefaces each note with the ATU number of each of the stories, the source, and a list of similar stories. It was fascinating to learn some tidbits about these stories through those notes, and the people who passed these stories along to the Grimm’s. I was also a little fascinated by the glimpse of a system for cataloging these fairy tales (I’d never heard of ATU types before this).

Because of the shortness of the stories, reading is hardly a chore. Anytime I sat down with Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm I would gulp down several stories. This book is perfect for picking up whenever the mood strikes to sink into a story, knowing that you can also set it aside quickly after a story or two.

Here are some of the highlights for me in this collection:

The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage – A trio of unlikely friends live harmoniously together until one day the seed for discord is planted in their midst. This was equally hilarious (in most part due to the sausage) and horrifying. I greatly enjoyed Pullman’s notes where he informs the reader that the sausage was a bratwurst.

The Girl with No Hands – One of the stories where piety is rewarded, a miller makes a deal with the Devil where he signs away his daughter in the bargain. Because his daughter is so Good she escapes the trap and lives happily ever after.  My reaction to this story was that it is ridiculous. Pullman calls it “disgusting”, and his notes say, “The most repellent aspect is the cowardice of the miller, which goes quite unpunished. The tone of never-shaken piety is nauseating, and the restoration of the poor woman’s hands simply preposterous.” I agree. The mental image of a despondent girl eating fruit with no hands haunts me somewhat.

Strong Hans – This story starts off telling the tale of a woman and her son (Hans) being kidnapped by bandits, but then ends up being the tale of Hans, who grows up strong, sets out to have adventures and rescues a princess. It struck me as one of those odd stories that begins one way, starts to look like something else, then ends up a third thing entirely. Basically, I agreed with Pullman that this story was all over the place. Things were introduced but then never utilized, which feels typical of fairy tales, but even more so here.

The Juniper Tree – This is a lyrical story about an evil step-mother who does a macabre deed but in return is driven to the point of madness as she gets her just desserts. This story struck me as being particularly well-written, and because of this it was one of my favorites. Pullman notes that it was sent to the Grimm brothers by Philip Otto Runge. I loved The Fisherman and his Wife, which was also sent in by Runge and has a similar well-put-together story style. Again I found myself nodding along with Pullman’s notes where he says, “For beauty, for horror, for perfection of form, this story has no equal.”

The Three Snake Leaves – This one I liked for its weirdness. It has a princess who has a “strange obsession” – that if she dies before her husband, he must be willing to be buried alive with her. Except this princess turns out not to be as loyal as she wants her husband to be. This was a new-to-me story, and delightfully bizarre. Pullman makes an interesting observation about the number of pieces a snake is cut into in this story that I would have missed without his note.

Overall: This feels like the perfect gift book for someone who likes fairy tales. It is a well-curated subset of the Grimm’s stories, and the notes by Pullman at the end of each adds just the right amount of perspective. This felt like it would work equally well as a reference book for someone who collects fairy tales, or as an introduction to folk tales for a young reader. I enjoyed this collection a lot. It’s definitely going onto my keeper shelf.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library – “Reading Pullman’s retellings was like coming home to find the walls of my house repainted–fresh and bright and like new again, with the added bonus of some new rooms that I’d never been in before”
The Book Smugglers – 8 (truly excellent)

Other
Philip Pullman talks about Grimm Fairy Tales at Anglia Ruskin University @ Things Mean A Lot
Phillip Pullman reads The Magicians of Bremen

Lips Touch, Three Times by Laini Taylor (illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo)

This is a trio of fantastical stories that involve a special kiss. Each story infuses fairytale elements with pieces of culture from across the globe – one is a nod to Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market“, another at Zoroastrianism, a third at the British Raj and the hell that Orpheus braved for Eurydice. The bonus is artwork that was created by Jim di Bartolo at the beginning of each story (pictures that show us the past–before the story we’re about the read begins), followed with one picture to leave the reader with a parting image.The initial capitals at the start of each chapter, the decorated end pages, and the inverted corners of the illustrations are details that made Lips Touch, Three Times a very beautiful book, the kind you’d want a physical copy of for your very own.
 
I bought a softcover edition of the book and compared it to the hardcover at the store – it looks like all the pictures are there and with the same colors (a combination of black and white, and pink). The only complaint I’d have is that I like the hardcover cover better than the paperback one. It’s an illustration by Jim di Bartolo which ties in with the inside better than this generic photo focused on some glossy lips (meh), but I like paperback over hardcover so that’s what I got.
 

Goblin Fruit: Kizzy belongs to a huge, weird family that lives on the edge of town and still believes in the Old World ways. Ghosts come to visit their house and the men hunt and do “things involving axes and offal” to turn their kills into meals. Kizzy is sixteen and embarrassed by their strange customs and beliefs. She hears the story her grandmother tells her about the goblins and her great aunt Mairenni, but she doesn’t hear. Goblins with magical fruit so good that girls would trade their souls for another bite are the stuff of fairytales to her. Which is unfortunate, because Kizzy is the type of girl that the goblins go after, a wishful girl with hungry eyes. When a preternaturally beautiful boy named Jack Husk shows up at school, no warning bells go off.
 
Although this story had the most ambiguous ending, this may be my favorite story. Yes, I am usually a HEA kind of girl, but I recognized Goblin Fruit as a cautionary tale, which made Kizzy’s fate more palatable. I also liked the modern feel of this story, with Kizzy going to high school and having conversations with her friends about boys and speaking in that easy, flippant way girls who are best friends often do. I liked that. The contrast between the teens and the fairytale they stumble into reminds me of the writing of Holly Black.

“Kissy! You just mingled saliva with the most beautiful boy ever to tread the hallways of Saint Pock’s. Saliva. There’s DNA in saliva.  You’re, like, carrying his cells in your mouth like one of those weird frogs that incubates its eggs in its cheeks!”
With a squeal, Evie added, “You could have his mouth baby!”
“God! Only you guys could make his saliva sound gross. I mean, did you see how perfect?”
“Oh, I saw,” said Cactus.

****
Spicy Little Curses Such as These: In British-ruled India, there is an English woman who goes down to Hell every week and bargains with the demon Vasudev for the lives of children. In exchange for the children, some adult with an evil soul would expire early. Every so often Vasudev would make things more interesting, and this is the story of what comes of a bargain where the newborn daughter of the Political Agent is cursed by one of their bargains. The girl, Anamique, was cursed with a voice so exquisite that all that hear it would promptly drop dead.
 
This is a romantic story where the suspense hinges on whether or not Anamique has the willpower to continue to be mute and spare those around her, even though only the servants believe her curse and her family does not. Anamique has a rich inner world but it’s a lonely life. Her downfall may be when she’s finally noticed by a young soldier named James Dorsey who finds her journal on the train, reads it,  and falls for with the person who wrote it. I loved how this story’s Indian setting felt like I was reading a beautiful dream of the past. Out of the three stories, I thought this was the sweetest and the most straightforward.

James cajoled an old missionary’s wife to take a turn at the piano at the end of the evening, so that he might have the chance to dance with Anamique.They touched for the first time, first delicately and decorously, fingertips to waist and hand to shoulder in the pose of the dance. But by and by James’s lips brushed softly against Anamique’s earlobe as he whispered something to her. She blushed furiously at the intimate touch, and a look of wistfulness and hope came into her eyes.
“I love you,” he had whispered, and it seemed to him as she pressed her lips together, that she was imagining whispering it back.

****

Hatchling: Esmé and her mother Mab live in their own separate world. Esmé has never been to school nor does she or her mother have friends or family. They live like fey creatures off of money they get when they sell diamonds a mysterious benefactor sends them in the mail. Then one day, Esmé’s left eye turns from brown to blue, and she hears wolves. That’s when they hastily throw together some belongings into a couple of violin cases and flee from her mother’s nightmare – the Druj. Watching over then until this moment is the exile Mahai, and he has plans for Esmé. The past of Mab, Mahai, and the druj is interwoven with the present in this story that centers around a race of immortal shapeshifters with no memory of their history.
 
Of the three stories, Hatchling is the longest, and with it’s shift from present to past, from one person’s history to another’s, it is probably the most complicated story. Before I started reading this, I had a couple of people comment that this was their favorite. I think in terms of the way things ended, all the pieces fitting together neatly and satisfyingly, I understand why this is a fave. This has elements of the Celtic fairy tales with dark Fae creatures who make mischief, turn into hounds and go on hunts, and keep pet trolls. I also felt like this was a story about memories and legends and things that were forgotten and then remembered. I liked this story, but the length and the shifting focus gave it less of an impact as the earlier stories in my mind. I also think expectation played a role here because we begin the story with Esmé, but the middle is about Mab, and the end is about someone else.

The forests belong to the Druj. Everything in them belongs to the Druj and the Druj are supposed to stay there — agreements had been made — but sometimes boredom gets the better of them.
Boredom is a terrible affliction of the soulless.
Every village in the foothills of those varied mountains has its tales of Druj stalking among them. They come as crows and owls, foxes and magpies, stags whose antlers carry the moss of centuries, and wolves, huge and hunched, padding silently through the center of town. Whatever cithra they keep, their eyes are always the same, that desolate blue, and that’s how humans know them.

Overall: A strong trio of stories and a keeper. I think the author says it best when she describes herself as “a magpie [...] a scavenger of shiny things: fairy tales, dead languages, weird folk beliefs, fascinating religions, and more”. These are stories that all feel like the children of other stories, but they’ve all been heavily infused with an air of the romantic. Reading this feels like discovering a room filled with whimisical, fantastic treasures accumulated over a lifetime by a rich French eccentric who liked pretty things (Yes, I just linked two such cases – it’s a thing).
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – overall score 9/10
Chachic’s Book Nook – “highly recommend to all fantasy fans” (she also quotes one of my favorite passages!)
Stella Matutina – 3.5 out of 5 (“prose is dark yet sweet; intricate yet accessible”)
Book Harbinger – “Lush, imaginative, beautiful in every way and extremely well-written”
Lurv a la Mode – 3 scoops out of 5 (“Despite not fully enjoying all the stories, I am in awe of the author’s imagination and skill”)

Stories for Nighttime and Some For the Day by Ben Loory

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day came to me from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. Although I love the cover (the sea, the sky, a tentacle, and a spaceship!) this is a book that I wouldn’t have found on my own. So chalk it up as one of the nice things about book blogging – getting to read good books outside your usual purview.

Read one of the stories, “The Girl In the Storm” here

Now, how do I describe this book? The one sentence summary is that this is a set of weird little stories. Very short, simple stories that feel like someone is relating a dream to you. Nameless and indistinct figures are the central characters. There was “a man”, “a woman”, “a moose”, “a tree”, “a boy”, or “a girl”, and then this very strange thing happens to them. Maybe they encounter an alien, or an ominous hat starts following them. Maybe they find a fish in their teapot. The story continues from there, and you keep reading because you have no idea how the story is going to end, and with 40 stories in 210 pages, each story is only a few pages long. And you have to know. Then you begin the next story. It’s the literary equivalent of eating potato chips. Before long, you’ve eaten the whole bag.

This book grew out of a horror writing class, but I didn’t find any of the stories very frightening, there’s just the dread of the unknown about some of them. They end in a way that suggests something bad has just happened without explicitly telling the reader what that was. To tell you the truth, most of my favorites had this sort of end. My other favorites were the stories that were just about living life – the stories in which someone or something decides to see the world, and what happens when they do, or the stories that had characters finding a friend or a love. I liked the sweet endings and the uncertain endings, although there were of course the endings that were neither.

Most of the stories were good, but every so often I hit one that fell flat. Usually these were the ones where I just didn’t get their point and as a result they became forgettable. I feel like either I’ve failed as a reader for not appreciating the meaning in the story, or the story has failed to actually convey a meaning. I can’t decide which.

Overall: I’d say I liked this one and it is a compelling read, but I also felt a little bit like these stories rely on a sort of Quirky-Kooky formula. It would have been nice to have stories in the mix that did not rely on this. I’d recommend it to people who have an appreciation for the offbeat.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 8 (Excellent, and a notable read of 2011)

Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews

Despite the teetering TBR pile, I went ahead and bought Ilona Andrews’ latest (a short story from Samhain) as soon as I thought I’d made a wee dent in my reading. The price is $2.50 at the Samhain website but a helpful commenter (_ocelott_ from genrereviews) let me know it was cheaper at Books on Board. As of this review, the price there is $1.74, and its $2.00 at Amazon.

This is a short story in a world that isn’t the same as that of the Kate Daniels series or the upcoming On the Edge series. And.. its a science fiction romance!!  *happy dance*.The Premise: In a futuristic world in which powerful families control much of the world because of their biological and technological enhancements, Meli Galdes is an assassin who was excised from her family so that she could carry out killings without being connected to them. Meli has just gone into retirement when her kinsmen ask for one more kill: Celino Carvanna, the man responsible for ruining her life. It’s been twelve years since the event, and Celino doesn’t recognize her, but Meli hasn’t forgotten the pain he caused and plans to exact her revenge.

Read an excerpt from the Samhain site

My Thoughts: I like the way that the world building is related in this one. In the space of a few short pages I understood the concept of families with enhanced biological traits and financial power. A futuristic society is presented through DNA scanners, robot security, ereaders, plasti-paper, and other day-to-day objects. Meli and Celino are also conveyed in quick strokes. In 41 pages, their characters had more depth than I’ve seen in full length novels. Celino is a ruthless business genius who is impatient and powerful, and sometimes overlooks things because he moves too fast. Meli is just as smart, just as lethal, feminine, and much more observant. She’s aware of his deficiencies and knows how to counteract them. Of course, she knows a lot about Celino, and the back story of why is fascinating.

You know, after pondering about it, I realized that this is like a Harlequin Presents novel (my favorite Harlequin line by the way). It’s got a businessman mogul and rival companies and an engagement for the sake of business strategy. Of course, in this case the Billionaire businessman is a preternaturally fast knife expert. And the rival’s daughter is an assassin who wants revenge on him. I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into the story by coming up with this, but if it was a deliberate spin on a popular trope, I’m delighted.

Unlike the Kate Daniel’s books out so far, this story does contain sex. It’s done nicely and although I was surprised at first how quickly it happens, fits in with the revenge plot.  The romance is more than just physical attraction, there’s a mental connection as well (the discussion of books in particular, some titles I googled and now want to read, was a touch I loved). The couple also have a history, which means the romance really spanned a longer time period than what the short story focused on.  I wasn’t sure how the author was going to pull of this story with a satisfying HEA but they managed to do it!

Overall: I liked it a lot! I recommend it, but I will read anything and everything by this author so it’s probably not a shock to those who regularly read my blog. I spent a nice hour or so reading this story in bed. Well worth the money and my time, and if this ever comes out in print, I’d buy it all over again. In an Ilona Andrews short story collection perhaps? I’d die of happiness!

If you want an idea of how well Ilona Andrew’s short stories are written, I suggest reading her freebies on her website. I noticed that the idea of powerful, mafia like families is something the writer likes to play with; it also shows up in one of my other favorite short stories – Days of Swine and Roses.

Short stories and the Journal of Mystic Arts

Via things mean a lot – I found out that there is a free online short story in Holly Black's Tithe/ Valiant/ Ironside universe called "Going Ironside". It's very short and bittersweet, from the point of view of an exiled faerie, hitting hard times in the city. I didn't know about it so thought I would link to it here.


The website the short story is on is the Journal of Mystic Arts (aka JoMA) which is an online magazine having it's final issue after many years:

JoMA is sponsored by the Endicott Studio, a nonprofit organization dedicated to literary, visual, and performance arts inspired by myth, folklore, fairy tales, and the oral storytelling tradition.

Endicott & JoMA have been online since 1997. JoMA's last issue is the Summer '08 issue, but our extensive archives of 10+ years of mythic arts material will remain online as an on-going source of mythic arts information & resources.

Founded in 1987, the Endicott Studio is directed by Terri Windling & Midori Snyder.

Other stories by familiar (to me) authors I wanted to point out:

"Silver and Gold" by Emma Bull

The Tale of the Mountain King and His Sky Bride” by O. R. Melling

 

Some Poems:

"Bone Mother" by Holly Black

"The Step-sister's Story" by Emma Bull

"Boys and Girls Together" by Neil Gaiman

"Instructions" by Neil Gaiman

Ok there is so much more by Neil Gaiman and Jane Yolen and Charles de Lint and Terri Windling and Delia Sherman and others. Worth spending some time there if you haven't been.

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