All together now: Once Upon A Time…
I love fairytales. There’s just something about the familiar archetypes and characters; the magic and mystery; the adventures, the transformations, the twists and turns… but mostly, I think it’s the storytelling. The telling of the tale is just as important in fairytales as the characters and the plot, whether it’s the oral traditions of the classics, or the beautifully crafted prose of more contemporary offerings.
So, it was a no-brainer to pick up a copy of Pullman’s Grimm Tales, an anthology of the famous brothers’ stories. The tales themselves are bitesize, with a commentary and notes by Pullman after each one, and there’s a nice range of them, from the really famous ones (Cinderella, anyone?) to ones I’ve never heard of, and forgotten gems from my childhood (The Twelve Dancing Princesses sparked romantic rebellion in my young heart – it was such a pleasure to remember how much I loved it).
I couldn’t get lost in this book the way I wanted. Something about the pace of the stories (which Pullman lauds in his notes) and stopping between tales to read the aforementioned anthologist’s notes really stymied my ability to get swept along in the narratives. The plots move unbelievably quickly – again, this is something Pullman obviously likes, and it’s really interesting to read his notes on the history and the traditions that explain this breakneck pace – but all in all Grimm Tales reads more like a study guide than a fairytale. Even though it is… y’know… a book of fairytales.
I would recommend reading it still – the study and research that has gone into it is genuinely fascinating, and quite frankly is probably reveals quite a bit about Pullman as an author and his influences, which is great. The stories are classics (obviously) and Pullman has carefully curated a brilliant blend of magic, gruesomeness and humour in his retellings; plus, the foreword and the notes are really very interesting. I’ll just maybe keep it for study afternoons, and not for a bedtime story.