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The Real Grimm Shady

Alix reviews Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, Philip Pullman's new updated version of Grimm's classic tales.

The Real Grimm Shady

BOOK REPORT for Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Cover Story: Hitchcock
BFF Charm: A Million Nays
Swoonworthy Scale: -∞ minus 1
Talky Talk: Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am
Bonus Factors: Fairy Tales, Endnotes
Trigger Warning: Rape
Relationship Status: That Facebook Friend Who Will Probably Be a Serial Killer Someday

Cover Story: Hitchcock

Those birds look pretty damn scary. Which is fitting, because this book might give you nightmares.

The Deal:

Philip Pullman, famed author, Englishman, and all-around BAMF has taken fifty of his favorite Grimm fairytales and retold them. Nope, not in a modern setting. Not with werewolves. Not set in some futuristic dystopia. Just normal, classic fairy tales, presented in a fresh new light, 200 years after they were originally published.

BFF Charm: A Million Nays

What’s the “Nay” equivalent of our “Make It Rain,” BFF charm? Because that is what I would like to give all these characters. EVERYONE IS A MONSTER. The men are creepy, stalkery, and/or child-abandoning douches, and the women are almost always horrible, murderous, and manipulative. The only redeemable presence in any of these stories is OCCASIONALLY the virginal princess archetype, but they hardly count since they’re mostly just sexual objects.

Swoonworthy Scale: -∞ minus 1

Guys, I tried really hard to come up with a way to write this review without talking about rape, because there’s not explicit rape in any of these stories. But then I decided to throw caution to the wind, because there’s totally rape in these stories. It’s SO SKEEVY. It’s not Pullman’s fault, because that’s how these stories were written originally, but oh my god I wanted to crawl into a hole and die when I read some of these. Take this excerpt from “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich”:

Finally the frog said, ‘Well, I’ve had enough now, thank you. I’d like to go to bed. Carry me up to your room and get your silken bed ready so we can sleep in it.’

The princess began to cry, because the frog’s cold skin frightened here. She trembled at the thought of him in her sweet clean bed. But the king frowned and said, ‘You shouldn’t despise someone who helped you when you were in trouble.’

So, just to clarify, the Frog Prince is all “Princess, let me into your silken bed.” And the princess is all “No, I don’t want to!” and starts to cry. And her father, the king, is like, “Daughter, he helped you so now you must sleep with him. Obviously.” And then the frog turns into a prince and they live happily ever after, because I guess it wasn’t legitimate rape.

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS STORY SUPPOSED TO TEACH CHILDREN?!

Talky Talk: Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am

Because Pullman stuck pretty closely to the original fairy tales, each story is short and moves with great speed. In one paragraph, Rapunzel’s mom is pregnant. In the next, she’s happily selling her firstborn to a witch in exchange for some lettuce. In the next, Rapunzel is 12 years old and being locked in a tower. The effect is quite jarring, but it works nicely in this context. Because the stories are so bizarre and disturbing, the writing should be kind of choppy and abrupt, like jump cuts in a Nouvelle Vague film.

Bonus Factor: Fairy Tales

I do love a good, classic fairy tale. And by classic, I don’t mean woodland creatures do the housekeeping. No, these are just straight up disturbing and will give me lots of future fodder for my Effed-Up Fairy Tale series, that I just remembered existed (Sorry y’all, someday I’ll write my way off that spaceship, I promise). Hellooo “Juniper Tree.

Bonus Factor: Endnotes

After each story, Pullman has a little note on what he’s changed, what similar versions of the story exist, and any other relevant historical information. I loved it! It was interesting to see why he made certain choices as a writer, and I learned fun facts, like that in an older version of “Rapunzel,” Rapunzel’s pregnant mom was trying to steal an abortifacient plant from the witch’s garden. Wow. No wonder she gave Rapunzel to the witch so easily.

Relationship Status: That Facebook Friend Who Will Probably Be a Serial Killer Someday

So I’m not really sure why I became friends with this book in the first place (it seemed nice at the time?), but now I would not go near it in real life. However, I find it to be a fascinating specimen to study from beyond the comfortable and anonymous barrier of the internet. Those short, story-like status updates are so intriguing, yet deeply, viscerally disturbing. I know that someday this book is going to be on the news for eating babies or whatever, and then I’ll feel guilty about my voyeuristic inclinations. But until then, I can’t look away.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Penguin. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version will be available November 8.

Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.
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