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Nov 26 2012

A Tale Dark and Grimm

by Nancy M

I recently reread A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz when my teen book club chose to discuss it.  The book is an adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, whom we all know, but continues their story by placing them in several lesser-known Grimm fairytales, such as “Faithful Johannes”, “The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs” and “The Robber Bridegroom” (renamed “A Smile as Red as Blood” in this retelling). And the reason these tales are probably lesser known is because these are the bloody, gruesome tales that you don’t want to be reading to your toddler. But while Gidwitz recreates a dark and often frightening fairytale world, he interjects a lot of humor, mystery and suspense into a really great coming of age story that is so captivating that I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Originally, most of the Grimm fairytales were very dark and “downright cannibalistic” as Dea Anne accurately describes in her recent blog post, but so many of them have been watered down over the years.  And while I wouldn’t say I particularly love blood and guts, this retelling definitely has sent me on a mission to get my hands on some of the less insipid tellings. Currently, I am reading The Juniper Tree selected by Lore Segal which is much more child friendly, but has a great selection of tales and is illustrated by Maurice Sendak. But I am eagerly anticipating Philip Pullman’s new collection, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, which promises to be a bit more mature. Also, check out Dea Anne’s post for more recommendations.

Gidwitz recently published the companion novel In a Glass Grimmly which follows the adventures of the nursery rhyme characters Jack and Jill, again weaving Grimm fairytales and this time Hans Christian Andersen’s tales as well. I haven’t read it yet, but if you can get your hands on it, I am sure it will not disappoint!

And in case you were wondering if A Tale Dark and Grimm is too violent for kids? Well, when I asked the kids in my book club if they liked it, I was met with a resounding “YES!” While they did think parts of it were gross, it’s what made the book even better. The author, it seems is asked this quite frequently, and has a great explanation on his website here that you can check out.

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Nov 14 2012

Good enough to eat!

by Dea Anne M

Last week, NPR’s culinary blog “The Salt” ran an interesting piece on food themes  in Grimms’ fairy tales. Of course, most of us can remember the witch’s gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel,” the poisoned apple in “Snow White,” and the laden picnic basket that Red Riding Hood carries to her grandmother through the dark woods. Food often presents a dangerous lure in these stories and sometimes is downright cannibal in nature as in “The Robber Bridegroom” and “The Juniper Tree.” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were compiling their German folk tales during the nineteenth century when hunger was still an ominous presence in many people’s lives and memories so perhaps it’s no surprise that food plays such a central role in these stories.

The NPR story focuses specifically on a new edition of The Annotated Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Maria Tatar. Though the book is far from complete, all the most important stories are represented along with fascinating annotations, lavish illustrations, and an introduction by A. S. Byatt. If you are as interested in folk lore and fairy tales as I am then this book is well worth your time and attention.

For other interesting views on fairy tales, check out Clever Maids: the secret history of the Grimm fairy tales by Valerie Paradiz, From the Beast to the Blonde: on fairy tales and their tellers by Marina Warner, and Fairy Tales: a new history by Ruth B. Bottigheimer. More works from Maria Tatar include The Annotated Peter Pan, Enchanted Hunters: the power of stories in childhood, and Off With Their Heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood. For more about the Grimm brothers themselves try The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world by by Jack Zipes. Finally, for a really wild take on the Grimms and their work, check out Terry Gilliam’s 2005 fantasy film The Brothers Grimm starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. This movie isn’t for everyone (and definitely not for children…or easily spooked adults!) but I found it weird, original, and very very entertaining.

Do you enjoy fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?


Mar 12 2012

Hundreds of new fairytales discovered

by Jesse M

In the mid-1800s, German local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth spent years wandering the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz, speaking with country folk, laborers, and servants, collecting information about local habits, customs, and history, and recording on paper what had previously been oral tradition. A contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, Von Schönwerth was well regarded by his fellow folklorists. Jacob Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, published in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859 (For German readers, there is a free ebook version available for Kindle, or PDFs of all three volumes available through the Bavarian Regional Library’s Digital Archive). The book never gained prominence and faded into obscurity, where it languished for a century and a half until being uncovered in a locked archive in Regensburg, Germany.

For the past several years, Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer has sifted through Von Schönwerth collected works and uncovered hundreds of fairytales, many of them not seen before in other fairytale collections, as well as local versions of more common stories, such as Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin. Last year Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth’s collection, and English translations are already in the works.

Impatient readers can check out one of the newly discovered fairytales online, The Turnip Princess.
To learn more, follow the link to the Guardian article on the subject.


Jan 27 2012

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

by Patricia D

In the original Grimms’ version of Cinderella the rotten step-sister can’t get her foot into the shoe and her mother hands her a knife and tells her to cut off her toes to make it fit.  After all, once she’s queen she won’t need toes.  That works fine until some little birds squeal on her as the Prince is taking her home.  He takes her back, there’s a whole “OMG—what a silly mistake we made, here’s the right girl”  scene where the second sister has to cut off her heel.  Not surprisingly, given the chattiness of small birds, the Prince is back pretty quick and he’s getting annoyed.  This is when Cinderella, who has been in the room the whole time,  pulls the mate to the now gore encrusted shoe out of her pocket and says “Oh, yeah, it was me all along.”

I want you to think about this carefully, because I want you to forget that blond chick in the blue dress  with all the singing mice.  Cinderella was not meek and mild.  Like a real girl, a much abused girl, she stood there with the other shoe in her pocket while her rivals stepped all over her with their mutilated feet.  She waited for the right time to pull her golden ticket out of her pocket and she waltzed off to Princess-hood.  Yeah, she took her sisters with her, but they get their eyes pecked out on the way to the wedding.  This is a story that reassures me because Cinderella is nobody’s doormat.  She isn’t perfect, she has a tiny taste for revenge and she can make a plan.

Why do I need this reassurance you ask?  One word answer: Disney.  Junior is hard into the Princess thing right now, happily abetted by her crazily indulgent family and friends.  I had a hard time allowing the Barbie look-alike Princess Aurora for Christmas but I did, consoling myself that this is a phase that will pass, and she will still grow up to understand that she can have a meaningful life even if she isn’t pretty, rich, and sweet.  However, she’s been begging for the Prince Philip doll (or should that be action toy?) because Aurora isn’t “complete” (her word) without him.  Ye gads, what have I done?

Am I over thinking this?  Maybe, but I’m not the only one and, much as I despise most Disney versions of my beloved fairy tales, I can’t really lay all the blame at the feet of the Mouse.  Peggy Orenstein examines the “princess-ification” of our daughters in a funny, thought provoking and comforting way in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter.   At least, it’s comforting to me.  Then again, I really like the Grimms’ Cinderella.

Try these as well, in case you want to get back to basics with fairy tales: