A Tale Dark and Grimm – Review

First of all – this is it! Our first month of blogging is over and we wanted to thank all of you for sticking with us and for your support and for just being generally awesome. We are moving on from Fairy Tales to Horror/Gore/Gothic/Frightening/ Thrills and Chills! (I’m not really sure what to call the genre, it, like fairy tales encompasses so much – but I am excited to get my scare on!) Adam Gidwitz‘s A Tale Dark and Grimm is a wonderful title that can pull us through from fairy tales to horror because it is a delightful mix of both.

On with the review!

a tale dark and grimmOnce upon a time, there was a servant names Faithful Johannes who had served the royal family for generations. When the king passes away, he asks that Johannes serve his son as the loyal and helpful servant he had always been.

Ever faithful, Johannes, of course, agrees.

Fairy tales and horror did not used to be such disparate genres and Gidwitz revives this long lost link. The narrator, who speaks in direct address to the readers, warns us that this tale will be especially tragic and particularly terrifying, and that fairy tales used to be as steeped in gore and mayhem as they were in beauty and wisdom.

 “Grimm’s stories — the ones that weren’t changed for little kids — aren’t cute at all. They’re violent and they’re bloody… So if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now. The land of Grimm can be a harrowing place…”

What I immediately brushed off as exaggeration in the hopes of humour, turned out to be completely true – heads get chopped off, sinners get tortured in Hell, young girls are imprisoned as birds, and main characters are… maimedit’s truly gory and horrific stuff and it is awesome!

A Tale Dark and Grimm follows the fates of Hansel and Gretel (and Faithful Johannes), who, in Gidwitz’s retelling run away when they learn that their father (the King) was happy to behead them to get what he wanted. (Don’t worry, they get their heads back and the story continues 😉

In the timeless story of children versus the adult world, the kids set out in search of better grown-ups. However, between a witch who wants to cook and eat them, a man who wishes his own children away in order to keep Hansel and Gretel, a jolly youngish man who steals girls’ souls and chops up their bodies, and a duke who gambles Hansel away to the devil himself… they don’t find any.

Hansel and Gretel are resourceful and brave as they pass through fairy tale after fairy tale, mixing them up and conquering them as they go, and while they are saddened by the general state of things, they manage to reach a happy, restorative, ending – sort of…

I really enjoyed this book. The storytelling is a brilliant mix of whimsy and cunning, with strongly oral prose and witty asides to the readers, that, while funny, also provide a cross between a warning and a dare that things are about to get gruesome and you might want to stop reading, if you’re squeamish. And, was it just me or did you hear fiendish laughter at times? The stories themselves are peppered with understated humour as well as well-paced adventure, clever innovations, and plot twists that have the flavour of the traditional stories that inspired them, but a healthy dose of mix-up and mayhem.

For me one of the most enjoyable things about this book was that Gidwitz doesn’t patronize or ‘protect’ the child reader, he makes his child protagonists both vulnerable and brave, resilient but, well, human. Hansel and Gretel prevail because they are children, Hansel and Gretel and the reader are the true heroes of these fairy tales because they make it, they get through it and they are prepared for more…

A Tale Dark and Grimm was published in 2010 by Dutton Juvenile (an imprint of Penguin) and I acquired it from the local library.

(I’m going to pull a Yash, is that ok?)

Why you might like it: You are interested in fairy-tale revisions that are funny but not spoofy, you enjoy the gory (but not quite horrible) and horror. These tales hearken back to a time before Disney which is more satisfying than a pig-out at a gingerbread house.

Why you might not like it: You are appalled that there are no good adults in the whole book – but then, if you are an adult reading this book, you should be on the child’s side, come on! And, while I praise the direct address as not underestimating the child reader, you might disagree! You might find it annoying and you may find that it slows the story down. It depends on whether you have a sense of humour or not. ;P

Arabian Nights

Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights, whichever title one calls it by, has a long and complicated history which I shall not go into here (I would need a whole series of posts to do the subject justice) except to mention the one thing all versions and retellings have in common: the framing device. In […]

Banned Books Week: The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Banned Books Week: The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Hardcover, 40 pages Published January 18th 1996 by HarperCollins (first published January 1st 1970) This tiny picturebook has received numerous awards. Among them: 1971 Caldecott Medal Book Notable Children’s Books of 1940—1970 (ALA) Best Books of 1970 (SLJ) Outstanding Children’s Books of 1970 (NYT) Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 1970 (NYT) Children’s Books of 1970 […]

Book Review: Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near

Book Review: Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near

Paperback, 432 pages Published June 3rd 2013 by Random House Australia Source: Personal copy Allyse Near’s debut novel, Fairytales for Wilde Girls, is a rollicking ride where creativity and imagination hold the reins. The novel follows the story of Isola Wilde who is a child of the Nimue which means she has a sixth sense […]