Fairy Tales From the Brother’s Grimm
by Philip Pullman
2012, Viking Press
Content Warning: This review mentions fairy tales that have themes of incest, femicide, and assault.
I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, about a pair of youngsters who wander through parallel universes, make friends with armored bears and cagey harpies, and fight in an epic battle against God. I also love fairy tales — I study them. So when I came across Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, I picked it up excitedly. And flipped to the table of contents. And discovered that my favorite Grimm’s tale, Fitcher’s Bird, isn’t included (Pullman selected fifty out of hundreds of stories). I hemmed and hawed and waited a few weeks, but I couldn’t resist: I’m a sucker for Pullman’s narrative voice.
Pullman’s voice — however lovely — is not the crux of the book. He set out to produce a clear, readable rendition of the Grimm’s classics, and his changes are light-handed. Still, the voice seeps through. Pullman smoothes over abrupt transitions and narrative holes with inventive details (I must admit, I love the awkward gaps in folk tales, and don’t always like how Pullman explains them away). He sprinkles the text with his signature anachronistic details (the devil’s grandmother reads a newspaper and Briar Rose’s parents go on special diets to help them conceive) and has fun playing with dialogue: Snow White’s speaking-in-turn dwarves turn in to a gaggle of overlapping voices.