Philip Pullman on Grimm Tales

Photo: Clara Molden for the Telegraph

Having radically reworked the Grimm tales (first published in 1812) for all ages, multi award-winning (and 2005 ALMA recipient) author Philip Pullman has appeared frequently in the press lately.

These new versions show the adventures at their most lucid and engaging yet. Pullman’s Grimm Tales of wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come. Here’s a very short video of the opening of Philip Pullman’s re-telling of Little Red  Riding Hood…

In late September his version of fifty of the tales of the Grimm Brothers was published. Recently, he met the Telegraph’s Nicolette Jones for an interview:

One surprising thing that Pullman’s volume reveals is that some of the details we think we know best from fairy tales – such as Cinderella’s glass slipper or the kiss for the frog prince – are not in the Grimm originals. In the Grimm tale, the frog is thrown against a wall and, as Pullman says: “he falls down a prince instead of a smashed frog”. Pullman’s annotations to the tales reveal similarities with other and later sources, though he never found the moment when the kiss got into this last story.

Part of the appeal for Pullman is the way these stories use archetypes rather than characters: “They are masks, as in the commedia dell’arte.” There is no back story, no complex motives, no internal life. Instead there is action that moves on with each paragraph. It has had an influence on Pullman’s current writing: “I am using fewer adverbs – on the whole I think adverbs are a mistake – and less description that does not move the story on.” He is still at work on his novel The Book of Dust, from the world of His Dark Materials; he began the novel 12 years ago, but interrupted it to write three other fictions, Lyra’s Oxford, Once Upon a Time in the North, The Scarecrow and His Servant, and then The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (part of the Canongate myths series), and now the Grimm retellings.

Pullman believes that fairy tales speak “about basic human situations – the very few ways we can relate to each other”. They are about men and women who marry or betray each other; about mothers who are replaced by horrible stepmothers, which is a way of letting children feel all the rage they feel towards mother. “And we have all felt the sense that Cinderella feels that ‘this is a horrible family and I don’t belong here, I am much better than this really and I ought to be a princess…’”

Read the full article here.

Tomorrow, Philip Pullman will be recording an interview of the Sky Book Show and then later that day speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, from 4-5pm. Keep up with news of Pullman’s autumn schedule on his website, available here.

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2 Responses to “Philip Pullman on Grimm Tales”

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