[Review] Classic fairytales given new life and a modern twist

By John Millen
By John Millen |

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Grimm Tales for Young and Old 

By Philip Pullman
Published by Penguin
ISBN 978-1846140266

More than 200 years ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published Children's and Household Tales. The two brothers had travelled all around Germany collecting stories from anyone willing to share their favourite folk tales.

Since then, fairy tales like CinderellaSnow White and Hansel and Gretel have become classics that every child knows. It's true that many only recognise these stories from animated movies. So going back to the original Grimm tales can be quite a shock to a reader used to Disney films.

The Brothers Grimm didn't shy away from blood and violence. Heads roll, blood spills and witches burn to death in ovens. And the difficult English in the translated versions of the stories can be quite a challenge, too.

But now Philip Pullman, the award-winning author of His Dark Materials, retells 50 immortal tales from the Brothers Grimm in his wonderful new book Grimm Tales for Young and Old.

Pullman's plan is to give modern readers a "clear as water" version of each story. He respects the originals but clears away the mud of heavy early-19th-century storytelling.

Occasionally, Pullman slips in a clever plot improvement to the story, allowing it to speed along at a lively pace. All the subtle style changes and enhancements make these classic stories utterly unmissable.

Grimm Tales is a strange mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Do not take apples from old ladies you might meet in the wood. If you come across a house made of cake, don't start to eat the roof, no matter how delicious it may look. Beware of frogs that jump up at you from deep inside a well.

Any idea that stories like Little Red Riding Hood or Rapunzel are cosy bedtime stories for kids is quickly knocked on the head. Wicked wives, brave children and murderers all play their part in the vast cast of heroes and villains. These wonderful stories are now told with a great sense of style, danger and wit by a master of modern storytelling.

All these stories need are four magical words, "Once upon a time", and they're off. Pullman's retelling of the Grimm classics will bring delight and shivers to a whole new generation of readers.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]