Tag Archives: Italo Calvino

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

Multiple Reading… How Did That Happen?

I don’t know if it’s me not being at my best currently or just what seems to be before me but I have realised at the moment I seem to be reading about six books at once, or have been as actually for the last two days I haven’t picked up a book, which again is rather strange. I have never been into multiple reading so how is it that this has come about?  Why is it nothing seems to be grabbing me as much as it could and I have tried all sorts and do want to be reading.

In fact on the go in the last week I had…

The City & The City by China Mieville – I really liked this but the multiple cities and the ‘unseeing’ of each seemed a little too much for my brain.
The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken – I fancied something dark and thought going to some classic 80’s young adult fiction (which is shockingly no long in print) might appeal, it did but then I trailed off onto something else.
If On A Winters Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino – As you can see I couldn’t finish this one off for sheer annoyance at it all.
Agatha Raisin & The Love From Hell by M. C. Beaton – has been in my bag all the time but not opened it.

I have also been dipping into the five Green Carnation Short Listed books again and yet can’t quite get on with those either, not because I have read them before as I am actually looking forward to reading all five of those books again. I have been managing to read lots of newspapers though which is most unlike me and have actually started to buy one daily, the new ‘i’ paper. Every day is has excellent mini book reviews which then brings back the pang for a good read. That’s the thing you see I do want to read something most desperately, I want to be lost in a good story and don’t know why I can’t.

I am going to my Mums hopeful though. And have packed a selection of books that I am hoping to spark my reading properly once more. They are all quite different so hopefully one of them will grab me and start the reading ball rolling once more.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice – I have been fancying reading this for ages.
Agatha Raisin and the Love From Hell by M.C. Beaton – I do genuinely fancy some Beaton although maybe I should try one of the new Edwardian books?
The City & The City by China Mieville – I am determined to finish this and time is ticking before its due at the library soon, mind you that pressure could cause issues in itself.
Was by Geoff Ryman – This sounds so up my street am just worried in my mind set I won’t give it the chance that it really needs.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – This is the next choice at book group and I always start book group choices a little late and at 544 pages this might be worth getting a crack on with now.

I only hope that I come back from the north with a book or two read and not another set of books that I have only gotten a quarter or half of the way through.

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If On A Winters Night A Traveller – Italo Calvino

I have been back in London for a few days this week before another little ‘procedure’ and my next return for some convalescing back up home this weekend, which coincides with my mother’s birthday. Whilst back I made sure I managed to get to The Riverside Readers book group for our discussion of ‘If On A Winters Night A Traveller’ by Italo Calvino which was chosen by Anirban. I have to admit I felt a bit of a cheat because I hadn’t finished the book… because I had thrown it across the room and given up on it a few days before. So this isn’t a ‘review’ more a public exorcism of a book that started off with a ridiculous amount of promise and then swiftly became the bane of my reading life.

Italo Calvino’s ‘If On A Winters Night A Traveller’ is claimed by many to be a ‘masterpiece’ and that always intrigues me with a book and makes me feel like maybe I should read it, apart from that I knew nothing of the author or his works. When I started the book I had high hopes, as I do with every book, and the quirky initial opening paragraphs of the book seemed to charm me…

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice–they won’t hear you otherwise–“I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

I liked this starting point, it seemed playful and so I was gearing up for a really enjoyable read that would take me away. However after the initial brilliance of the opening chapter (and I do mean chapter) which is a rather wonderful set of pages about reading, it just went down hill for me. You see the plot is rather confusing. We follow ‘you’ a reader who buys a copy of Italo Calvino’s book ‘If On A Winters Night A Traveller’ however there is something wrong with it after exchanging to for another copy he gets a completely different book, and again, and again each one in a differing genre style. We then get the first chapter of each of these books in alternating chapters… well I wont lie I was really, really confused by it all.

As we started to have scenes set such as a scene in a café where Calvino starts to analyse setting with things like ‘could this story all be in the café, is the outside world important, maybe we will find out, maybe we wont’ I just started to get really annoyed. I felt I was being patronised and that the writer was being rather smug, and that’s when I decided to throw it across the room. I found it mildly amusing after being so cross that in the initial chapter when Calvino describes varying books Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them Too, Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days are Numbered, Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified”  and seemed to include one that described his own “Books You Needn’t Read” and so I stopped.

I also laughed when Armen, one of the other members of book group, dug out his copy which was in another language (sorry Armen I have forgotten which language) and it looked like it might possibly have made more sense to me in a language I couldn’t read.

A weird book that annoyingly defeated me, almost non fiction in the way it looks at how readers read and writers write it should have worked for me but instead almost brought me out in hives. Pretty much everyone else managed to finish it, bad me, and you can see Kim’s review here. Anyone else managed it or anyone else who has been defeated?

This was a book that Armen from our book group gave me at our Christmas book swap at book group last year, and then it ends up as a read, how random!

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Filed under Book Group, Italo Calvino, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics