my review). So I had high hopes for the writing quality in this collection, which retells fifty stories from the originals by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
One of the parts I actually enjoyed the most about this book was the introduction. As I said, I'm not that familiar with the history of fairy tales so I was interested to read about the attempts to create a German 'nationalism' at the time and how the collection of tales could feed into that. I always imagine the source of fairy tales to be poor people living in the forests so it was also interesting to realise that most tales came from the middle classes. There's a decent analysis of the pace of fairy tales and how this can only be achieved at the expense of creating three dimensional characters. In fact, you could question whether the characters are conscious beings at all. The introduction was just the right length and importantly, made it clear that Pullman wasn't trying to put a twist on the tales - they are straight-forward re-tellings.
I enjoyed the actual tales a lot more than I expected to. Pullman does a great job of creating an overarching atmosphere or setting that links all the stories. There's plenty of ominous forests, tricky magical beings, men named Hans and evil step-mothers. The writing was as good as I anticipated, simple but with just the right amount of irony to bring a touch of humour to the collection ("Well, what else did you expect? That's just the sort of thing that happens in this world."). Interestingly enough, it wasn't always the popular tales (Cinderella, Rumplestiltksin etc.,) that I enjoyed the most, part of the fun was discovering new to me tales such as the second part of the Elves, where a girl spends what she thinks of as three days in the mountain with the elves, only to discover it was actually seven years. At the end of each story, there's a brief commentary by Pullman with information about the source and some analysis. I found these too short to be really informative.
The only other book I can compare this collection to is Arabian Nights. Whilst I very much enjoyed the tales and thought that Pullman did a great job on the retellings, the stories themselves didn't compare to Arabian Nights. They feel too familiar. But that's not a criticism of this edition at all, just a personal preference - I'm the sort of person who will always choose the unfamiliar over the familiar.
I'm glad I requested and read this volume of fairy tales and I've got some interesting titles for my reading list from the introduction (particularly Maria Tatar). If you like fairy tales, you'll enjoy this collection.
Source: From the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: November 2012
Score: 4 out of 5