Book review: Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman

Today I would like to give you a quick review of Philip Pullman’s adaptations of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales: Grimm Tales for Old and Young.

You may know Philip Pullman from the His Dark Materials trilogy, touted as the thinking-child’s alternative to Harry Potter. Without a smidgen of doubt they are vastly better written than the trash that is Harry Potter (it’s amazing the author made so much money out of them when she cannot even write for skimmed milk, let alone toffee) but I generally found them as turgid as an advanced probability lecture. They showed flashes of dark humour and a slightly surrealist view of the world. These traits would suit my experience of non-sanitised Grimm brothers’ tales so I hoped they would shine through without getting bogged down in dreary plodding.

The Grimm brothers’ fairy tales were not original compositions by them but rather they collected and adapted a bunch of stories traded in the oral tradition. Philip Pullman feels he is continuing this tradition of spreading and adapting these age-old stories in Grimm Tales for Young and Old.

Daddy has read a number of these stories to me at bedtime and, when he’s been feeling little and I’ve been daddy, I’ve read some for him. As such I have experienced the stories from both the young and old perspectives alluded to in the title of the book. I’ll give you the view from both sides.

For old:

Grimm Tales for Young and Old range from the wearisome and twee to the unhinged and side-splittingly hilarious, but there is normally an element of slightly twisted humour in every one.

The stories are filled with unexplained holes and confusing events that seem to occur for no reason. The dialogue is often quite often bizarrely off the wall – we have no idea why the dog tells the bird that the sausage was carrying forged papers when it was out collecting wood, nor does it seem we need it explaining. Coherent, focussed narrative is largely evanescent.

But that’s just fine. The stories are generally short enough to read in a brief sitting and there’s generally enough whacked-out craziness or macabre nastiness to keep your interest for the brief span of the tale. Some of the tales are less worthy of inclusion, but for the most part you’re in for a series of giggles and perplexed expressions when you read this book. That’s not bad for a little over an Ayrton*.

For young:

Again the experience is mixed ranging from distinctly entertaining, via interminably boring, to screamingly petrifying. Reading a little the tale with the sausage I mentioned above had him sobbing his eyes out at the end and needing much soothing. I felt a bit bad about this as half way through the story I was paralytic with laughter at some of the proceedings. Yet it all turned out with the characters getting gruesomely slain.

Things getting hung, eaten or generally butchered is a remarkably common theme in this book. Moreover, it’s normally dealt with in a breezily offhand manner as if horrific death is just the kind of thing you’re prepared for when meeting the vicar for tea and cake.

The gushing morbidity and general darkly eccentric nature of the book really does make it unsuitable for the younger ones amongst us. Even if your little is slightly bolder it’s worth reading the stories through first to check they’re not going to poo their pants with terror (or occasionally hilarity) – the title and first few paragraphs will give you no inkling of what’s to come.

I am aware that some teen-kids like having stories read for them and, being closer to the unexplored land of ‘adulthood’, this should suit such bigger littles down to the ground.

Speaking as someone who’s largely three, this book has made me glad I wear a nappy to bed – when I’ve had some of the stories read I’ve been terrified! I’ve been amused by some too but I’m not choosing any more stories from this book until daddy has read the whole thing and super-promises that the tales he’ll tell are nice!

*Ayrton Senna – Tenner