Category Archives: Philip Pullman

Grimm Tales – Philip Pullman

I mentioned that it was the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm last week and one book which seems to have made the most of this timing is Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. This is a book that I have to admit I didn’t hear about until it was out, I would have expected more fanfare to be honest, and as soon as I heard about it I simply had to get my hands on it. It also seemed the perfect time of year, just before Christmas and just after the anniversary, to talk about it when there is that little sense of nostalgia and magic in the air and these tales are just the sort of thing to turn to either between the festive franticness or indeed if you need to escape from your family at any point. Oh… none of you feel the need to do the latter, how awkward.

Penguin Classics, hardback, 2012, fiction, 406 pages, from my personal TBR

I thought, before embarking upon reading them, that ‘Grimm Tales – For Young and Old’ would be Philip Pullman completely retelling the tales of the Brothers Grimm. In a way it is, though Pullman admits himself that he has only lightly retold them, yet in a way it sort of isn’t. That’s a helpful explanation from me isn’t it?

What Pullman really does is tell the stories as they were originally, basically before they were Disney-fied or Ladybird-ily made brighter and more chipper, putting back in all the darker details and the twists and turns that have strangely been forgotten, or maybe airbrushed is a better expression. He also gives the language a little tweak here and there and modernises it for the new younger reader too. In modernising them it seems Pullman is making them more relevant for the youth of today, he also adds referential relevance for adult readers in the part of the book that I almost enjoyed as the tales themselves. How does he do this? Each story finds itself with end notes which tell you the ‘type’ of story it is, where the Brothers Grimm heard it, where else worldwide it’s been told, how the Brothers changed it and how he has changed it, modernised it or made it work better (in his opinion) too.

Notes on Cinderella

Notes on Cinderella

In doing this, and in fact with the wonderful introduction to the true history of the tales which of course I left to read till last, we are almost given double the delight of the fifty (the Brothers Grimm actually recorded over 200 tales) as not only do we have the joy of reading them, with their full uncut endings, we also have the joy of discovering more about them. I really loved this aspect of the book and found on occasion I preferred the stories behind the stories to some of the stories themselves – not all the time, only once or twice.

As to the collection of tales themselves, well with favourites like ‘Snow White’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Rumplestiltskin’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, etc I was always going to be pleased. I was more so by the inclusion of lots and lots of tales that I hadn’t heard of before. New favourites such as ‘Little Brother and Little Sister’, which has the most boring title but is a tale of wicked stepmothers, witches, murder and even ghosts, are going to become favourites to re-read. Even if I wasn’t bowled over by a couple of them I enjoyed reading them for the fact they were new to me.

As for my old favourites, well of course I was thrilled to read them. I was delighted when I read Perrault’s original tales a few years ago by the darkness and the endings that my Ladybird classics certainly didn’t have, and this happened again with Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. You will probably know that my very favourite as a child was ‘Rapunzel’ (so much so that is what I named my pet duck, no really) and I was quite horrified and thrilled when I discovered – spoiler alert – the twist was that Rapunzel not only got her haircut off, sent away and the prince blinded, but that she was actually pregnant (before marriage!!!!!) and became a homeless mother of twins before being reunited with her prince. Well I never!  They didn’t put that twist in ‘Tangled’ did they?

“The witch was lying in wait. She had tied Rapunzel’s hair to the window hook, and when she heard him call, she threw it down as the girl had done. The prince climbed up, but instead of his beloved Rapunzel, at the window he found an ugly old woman, demented with anger, whose eyes flashed with fury as she railed at him:
  ‘You’re her fancy-boy, are you? You worm your way into the tower, you worm your way into her affections, you worm your way into her bed, you rogue, you leech, you lounge-lizard, you high-born mongrel! Well, the bird’s not in her nest anymore! The cat got her. What d’you think of that, eh? And the cat’ll scratch your pretty eyes out too before she’s finished. Rapunzel’s gone, you understand? You’ll never see her again!’”

Overall I really enjoyed Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, occasionally there was the odd dud and the language sometimes felt too current, which I don’t think fairy or folk tales should ever do really, but I loved the favourites and the wealth of information that you learn about the Brothers Grimm’s and the tales themselves. I have heard some people miser about the fact Pullman hasn’t really done anything original with this collection just retold the tales, but 200 years ago that is exactly what the Brothers Grimm were doing wasn’t it?

Has anyone else given this collection a whirl? Which other collections of folk and fairy tales would you recommend? I have to admit I am quite keen to try Italo Calvino’s ‘Italian Folktales’, which is mentioned a lot by Pullman in this book. Finally, what is your very favourite fairy tale and why?

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Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Philip Pullman, Review

Introducing… The Bookboy Reads

I have mentioned that I come from a fairly book loving family, and as you have seen Granny Savidge Reads has already done a blog post (and is currently working away at her second) been grilled and shared her top ten books for Savidge Reads. In a week or two my mother (who teaches English and reads heaps) will also be sharing her top ten and getting grilled. I was delighted when one of my younger members of the family asked if he could please write a blog post every now and again with regard to children’s and young adult books. How could I say no? After all though I have seen a few adults concentrating on those genre’s but no youngsters (though I could be wrong). Now as this is a younger member of my family we decided a pseudonym would be best for safety etc, it also adds a certain mystery (and as I said means he can be harshly critical with no come back, ha) to it all.

 So without further ado I shall hand you over to The Bookboy, who after reading his reviews has left me rather worried that I could have some serious competition in a few years time both on book reviewing front and possibly journalism too…

“Allow me to introduce myself, I am eleven years old. I really enjoy books and, therefore, asked Simon if I could do a blog. I am now so glad that I did because it was great fun to write. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The first book I am going to review is ‘The Ruby in the Smoke’ by Philip Pullman.

This book is the first in a quartet by Philip Pullman, which is set in the late Victorian era.  The heroine is a young girl of sixteen called Sally Lockhart, who has just heard that her Father, a shipping agent, has drowned. She goes to pay a call upon her late father’s business partner, Mr Selby. After this, Sally decides to investigate the death of her father. Along the way, Sally finds that her Father’s death is intertwined with many other murky events. She makes an enemy of Mrs Holland, an evil landlady and befriends a youthful photographer, plus his actress sister. This book has many twists and turns, just where you least expect them. It had a slightly sinister feel and it made me want to know more about the Victorian period.  Some of the language and features are at times unsuitable, so I would not recommend this book to children of under the age of nine. If you have read any ‘Sherlock Holmes’ by Arthur Conan Doyle, you will enjoy this book.

 My second choice is ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’, which is set during the Second World War, and is by Michelle Magorian.

The main character in this book is a small boy called William Beech. He lives in London, but is evacuated to the countryside due to The Blitz.  William is evacuated to a small town set deep in the country; its name is Little Weirwold.  He is left in the care of a gruff, old gentleman named Tom Oakley.  Will, as William now likes to be called, is starting to settle in, however Tom is not the best person he could have gone to for tender, loving care. Tom, though begins to care for Will as if he was his own. Tom notices a lot of cuts and bruises on Will’s body. Just as he is beginning to feel at home, Will receives a dreaded summons back to London from his mysterious mother. Will he ever see Tom or Little Weirwold again?

This book made me feel excruciatingly sad in some parts, yet exceedingly happy in others. It is without the slightest doubt one of the best books I have ever read. Again, it does have some unsuitable language and scenes, so, I would recommend no younger than ten year olds should read this book.  If you have read ‘A Spoonful of Jam’, also by Michelle Magorian, or ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne, then you will like this book.

My third and final book for now is ‘Gatty’s Tale’ by Kevin Crossley Holland.

This book is about a farm girl called Gatty, who works on a manor called Caldicot.  She is all alone in the world and greatly saddened by it. This book is set in the medieval times. Then, an opportunity arises for Gatty to accompany the lady of another manor on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Gatty accepts and a long, perilous journey begins. But, before they set off, Gatty must learn to become a chamber maiden to Lady Gwyneth, the lady who is in charge of the Pilgrimage. Many dangerous things happen on the way and one of the number nearly perishes. All is going well for the pilgrims, until two of them miss the boat.  Is one of them Gatty? This book is excellent. I love the way that he describes everything so vividly that it’s almost as if you’re standing right there beside the characters. Some of the language in this book is rude, so I think only over nine year olds should read this book. If you’ve read the Arthurian trilogy, by Kevin Crossley Holland, you will love this book as it is based around the same sort of thing, and some of the characters are the same.”

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Filed under Bookboy Reads, Kevin Crossley Holland, Michelle Magorian, Orion Publishing, Philip Pullman, Puffin Books, Scholastic Books

The Good Man Jesus & The Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

Happy Easter to one and all of you should you happen to be passing by this post on this Easter Sunday. I don’t know if it’s sacrilegious or timely to be reviewing ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Philip Pullman, a book that seems to be causing controversy wherever it goes. Controversial books are always very good for sales and become some of the biggest read books of the year but are they actually any good? Well today’s review of the latest book to cause a super stir comes to you from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Philip Pullman and who doesn’t really have any religious stance. So you are going to get some very unbiased thoughts, well you always get unbiased thoughts here but you know what I mean.

Can you imagine if Jesus had in fact been born a twin? Well its from this idea that Pullman writes ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ as after Mary’s immaculate conception she gives birth to two boys on Jesus is a healthy strapping baby where as Christ is a bit of a weakling. As the two sons grow up they couldn’t be more different. Christ is the quieter more thoughtful child who looks at everything from all sides and thinks it all through. Jesus is a more boisterous slightly rebellious child who won’t conform to what people want. As the two young men grow up, and discover they have some quite marvellous abilities, one of them becomes famous everywhere he goes (and starts to become a bit of a megalomaniac) whilst the other sits in the background fading into the shadows. That is all I will give you of the story but it leads to a clever twist that becomes the legend people read in the Bible today.

I will admit to having no religious views but I know the idea of the book has caused outrage with those who have. I am sure it won’t make the slightest difference me then saying that it made me much more interested in the stories of the bible than the R.E lessons or never ending assembly sermons did when I was at school. Jesus having a twin makes you see all his actions such as feeding the thousands bread and fish, turning water into wine and healing the sick from an eye witness and one who has a realistic stance on the whole thing and looks at it from more than one certain side.

I thought I would give you a snippet (longer than a quote but smaller than an excerpt) of the style of the book which is told like a wonderful myth with great characters, some suspension of what you believe and a dash of humour and realism.

At that time, Mary was about sixteen years old, and Joseph has never touched her. One night in her bedroom she heard a whisper through her window.
‘Mary, do you know how beautiful you are? You are the most lovely of all women. The Lord must have favoured you especially, to be so sweet and so gracious, to have such eyes and such lips…’
She was confused and said ‘Who are you?’
‘I am an angel,’ said the voice ‘Let me in and I shall tell you a secret only you must know.’
She opened the window and let him in. In order not to frighten her, he had assumed the appearance of a young man, just like one of the young men who spoke to her by the well.
‘What is the secret?’ she said.
‘You are going to conceive a child,’ said the angel.
Mary was bewildered.
‘But my husband is away,’ she said.

It is a modern grounded and often quite funny twisted take on the tale of Jesus, though not really a retelling it in some ways is, and I think in a time where religion seems to be out of fashion I wouldn’t be surprised if it sparks people’s interest. I won’t lie the church comes under some serious criticism in the book especially its morals and what it claims to stand for but I would say people should definitely give this book a try no matter what your views are on religion, God etc. It’s a great tale and a wonderful addition to the Canongate Myths, though not quite my favourite it’s not far off.

So yes the hype is almost worth it with this novel. I do think that some of the hype, apart from the subject of it being about Jesus, is that its Pullman’s latest novel. I am not sure where I stand on Pullman (I loved the Sally Lockhart series but thought His Dark Materials was good until half way through the second book) but I did like the way he wrote this, it resonated with me in some way. So who will and who won’t be reading this, and of course why? What are your thoughts on books that cause a mass of controversy before they are even released?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Philip Pullman, Review, The Canongate Myths