Book Review: Grimm Tales for Young and Old (Philip Pullman)

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 420

Release Date: September 27th 2012

Summary (from Goodreads):

Two hundred years ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now, at a veritable fairy-tale moment—witness the popular television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and this year’s two movie adaptations of “Snow White”—Philip Pullman, one of the most popular authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

From much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “Briar-Rose,” “Thousandfurs,” and “The Girl with No Hands,” Pullman retells his fifty favorites, paying homage to the tales that inspired his unique creative vision—and that continue to cast their spell on the Western imagination.


This book combines two of my favourite things: Grimm Tales and Philip Pullman’s wonderful writing. What’s not to like?

I loved his introduction. It explains a lot about the nature of fairy tales, the tradition of oral storytelling, and what he has done with his versions. Because these aren’t adaptations, or Pullman putting his own spin on well known tales: they really are re-tellings, just in his own words, without changing anything dramatic in the plots or characters.

I won’t comment on all the individual stories as there’s lots of them and I have to say, when reading them all together, they can blur into one a little. I think this is a book that you should dip in and out of rather than reading consecutively as a novel. The stories and characters can get a bit repetitive otherwise. This is something Pullman comments on in his introduction: the characters are all stock characters rather than ones you would expect to find in a novel. They’re not there to be people. Often they don’t even have names of their own, just job titles like ‘The Baker’ or relationship ones like ‘The Sister’. This help keeps the stories brief, as they need to be, because these are about the story rather than any kind of character development.

There were a lot of familiar stories in this book – who doesn’t know the tale of Cinderella or Rapunzel or Hansel and Gretel (from childhood or Disney films…)? – but there were also a lot that were new for me. I liked that they stuck to the more original stories too, just in the small details: like Rapunzel revealing the Prince’s visits by complaining that her clothes are too tight (because she is pregnant) rather than her just being stupid and making a flip comment about him being easier to pull up than the witch.

As I mentioned before, I don’t think this is one to read straight through. It’s too repetitive and ever so slightly moralising, as is the nature of Grimm tales. But this would work perfectly as a bedtime book – a story before bed each night, that kind of thing. Don’t go in expecting some revolutionary adaptations, but do expect charming (though often brutal or even cruel) stories with a little of Pullman’s magical story telling in there.


If you enjoyed this, you might like The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

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