Tag Archives: fairy tales

Not for the Faint of Heart

I just finished A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.  Why did I resist this book again?  I think it had something to do with an overdose of fairy tale re-imaginings.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad I went back and read it, because…  WOW.  Just, wow.

You know how A Series of Unfortunate Events started a trend of talking to readers, warning them that bad things might happen or that they should be careful with the book they’re holding?  Well, this book warns the readers too.  Only instead of something a bit sad, if comically over-the-top, happening to some otherwise good kids, this warning is serious.  If you keep reading, there will be blood, and a lot of it too.  There will be what amounts to serial killers and gruesome details about deaths.  Gidwitz takes the most dark, terrifying bits of the Grimm Brothers’ stories and brings them to life in his tale and he never holds back from the pain of it all.  Honestly, some of this stuff would make Stephen King cringe.  So don’t say the book (or this review) didn’t warn you.

However, it is a story solidly for kids and relatively young ones too.  The book is middle grades, not young adult, and I think the audience is definitely upper elementary schoolers.  Gidwitz is a writer more on the side of the kids than almost any other I’ve read recently.  The recurring theme of how corrupt and evil grown-ups are runs through the entire story and it never comes back around to re-evaluate that point either.  The plot twists and turns a great deal, but the set up is simple.  In a mishmash of the real Grimms’ tales, Hansel and Gretel are the prince and princess of a kingdom where their parents’ history leads them to a terrible plot against their own children’s lives.  They run away, first to the witch’s gingerbread house, but after that into several other re-imagined fairy tales, meeting violence and bloodshed along the way, mostly, but not entirely, perpetrated by those horrible grown-ups.

This is a story of actual darkness in the way the original Grimm Brothers’ stories were.  There’s no candy coating, yet the bloodshed isn’t gratuitous either.  And more importantly, the lessons aren’t simple.  There are a lot of transformations – people in monsters, souls into birds, and the like.  There are also a lot of journeys that are clearly at least as metaphorical as they are real.  In short, there’s a lot of meaty stuff to mull over for the serious young reader, especially when the ending brings the children back to face their murderous parents.

The book isn’t for everyone, but I hope those who would be interested by its dark story find their way to it.

Fables Ruined Me for Other Fairy Tale Retellings

Do you know the graphic novels series Fables by Bill Willingham?  It’s not for kids.  It’s a grown-up (or older teen) graphic novels series about characters from fairy tales who have fled their homelands and taken up residence in New York.  If you’re the sort of person who can appreciate graphic novels and can appreciate a premise like that, then they’re excellent.  In the near decade they’ve been coming out, the stories have run the gamut from funny to snarky to dark to emotionally touching and even thought-provoking.  In fact, they’re so excellent that they’ve ruined me for reading all these other modern takes on fairy tales.  Every time I try one, all I can think is, “Fables already did that and they did it better.”

Seriously, I’ve now seen two different middle grades series with similar themes to the grown-up Fables and not been able to appreciate them because Fables just did it better.  Usually, I find that children’s books tackle subjects in ways that I often find more interesting or at least as interesting as adult books.  But apparently not this time.  First, The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley.  I read Fairy Tale Detectives and I tried to read The Unusual Suspects, but honestly, I just kept thinking about how they’d stolen Fables‘s idea.  The premise of this series is that there are refuges from the fairy tale world who are living in, honestly, I think it’s upstate New York.  If you’ve read Fables, they’re not allowed to leave their town, making it oddly reminiscent of the Farm.  Like in Fables, Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk same is the same Jack from all the tales and is a rapscallion who isn’t to be trusted.  The Big Bad Wolf has reformed and acts as the local legal enforcement.  It’s a funny series and reasonably well-written with lots of action and plenty of appeal.  I wanted to like it, but alas.  The trappings were just so similar.  I spent half the time wondering if Buckley had actually read Fables and thought, gee, what a great idea if you could make it for kids!

Now, I’ve just finished reading Shannon and Dean Hale’s Calamity Jack.  This is part of a graphic novel series from Shannon Hale, who has written several more traditional YA fantasy novels with fairy tale themes.  However, this fairy tale retelling, which begins with Rapunzel’s Revenge, has a very steampunk, early American feel to it.  Again, I can’t help but be reminded of Fables.  The character of Jack, while nowhere near as heartless or womanizing as in Fables, is still thrown into a similar setting as his spinoff comic series and is still the same brand of rogue.  It’s fine.  The art is pretty good.  The attitude is fun.  I would even recommend it to kids looking for graphic novels.  Yet, I just couldn’t enjoy it.  The husband, when he saw it on the side table, actually asked if it was somehow connected with Fables.

Now in the last year, I’ve also seen two Brothers Grimm themed quirky fairy tale books come out: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.  It must be in the ether.  Both look interesting.  Both have gotten decent reviews.  Yet, I’m afraid to read them.  What if Fables really has ruined me for modern takes on the fairy tales?