Book Review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm cover image

Many of the fairytales that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected and published in the 1800s are well known even today: Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood. So why would anyone be interested in reading a new printing of these stories?

Philip Pullman answers that question with his Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version (Viking, 2012). First off, Pullman, who created the popular and beloved His Dark Materials series that started with The Golden Compass, knows how to weave a tale or two of his own. Second, the Grimm brothers collected dozens of fairy tales that are not as well known but just as delightful as those listed above. And third, Pullman has researched and lists other similar fairy tales known in other cultures that adds to the appreciation of these tales.

Pullman starts with an introduction about brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who were born in Germany in the late 1700s and began collecting and publishing tales in the 1800s. Pullman talks about the popularity of tales at the time, and he paints a picture of what it was like for listeners to hear them. He also makes a case for fairy tales as being meant to be added to and improved upon depending on the teller and the times they are told in. I really got an appreciation for how modern adaptations fit right into the spirit of fairy tale construction.

I really enjoyed reading each tale, then looking for Pullman’s comments at the end. In them, he noted any changes he may have made and why as well as cited similar tales told in other countries. For instance “Mount Simeli,” is similar to “The Story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Killed by a Slave Girl” from The Arabian Nights, and “The Robber Bridegroom” has connections to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Also a plus for reading the book is the length of the stories. Most are short and easily digested before bedtime or easy to read aloud at any time. But even though the stories are fairy tales, children would probably not appreciate the explanations or many of the tales themselves, which tend to be a bit more violent than the toned down versions found in popular culture. While thoroughly delightful, I believe  Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm is best suited for young adult and adult readers.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


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