Philip Pullman about his latest book

Photo: Leopard förlag

Versatile Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, The Ruby in the Smoke and I was a Rat!, is in the limelight with a new book (blog post October 5), this time with an interpretation of fifty of the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers. We contacted Philip Pullman as we were curious about why exactly the Grimm Brothers became a starting point for his new book.

Hello Philip, please tell us about your latest book.
I wrote these versions of fifty of the Grimm tales because … The publisher, Penguin Classics, asked me to. I was delighted to have the chance of looking freshly at these marvellous stories, and of selecting the ones I thought most interesting from the 210 in their collection. All the famous classics had to be there (‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and so on) but I was also very pleased to be able to include some wonderful stories that aren’t so well known, such as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, or ‘Hans-my-Hedghog’.

I had enormous fun. In coming back to these great stories I think I learned a great deal about how the best stories work, about what makes them so compelling and powerful; and no time spent on fairy tales is time wasted. As Albert Einstein said (apparently) “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

They are still of interest to people today because above all else they are marvellous stories, full of danger, fear, excitement, happiness, humour and truth.

The first edition of the fairytales of the Grimm Brothers was published in 1812. Why do you think the tales still interest people of today?
My versions are not strict translations. There are plenty of those already. What I wanted to do was put them into a free and flowing modern English, in my voice, and to make the sort of little alterations that I’d make if I was telling them orally – cutting a bit here, adding a bit there, making this transition smoother, clarifying that motive. I thought I was allowed to do that because folk tales, which these are, are not a text in the literary sense. Wilhelm Grimm after all, made many alterations in the stories between the first edition of 1812 and the seventh of 1857 – not all of them for the better.

In what way have you been influenced by the Grimm Brothers in your own writing?
They have always influenced my own writing, but I think they’ll do so even more now. One small example: I saw how you can cut out most of your adverbs and make your work sharper and clearer. There’s a good lesson for any writer!

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