31.Mar.2010 The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar

Several months ago one of my friends was asking on Twitter about good ‘classic’ children’s books and I recommended this one as possibly the best collection of Grimm’s fairytales. I had just bought a copy and we’d started going through it as bedtime reading.

Apart from being entirely un-Disney-fied, what is especially nice about the Tatar edited collection is that each story comes with copious sidebar annotations for the reader. These sidenotes are very useful at explaining the underlying meanings in some of the choices of words and character traits in both the very well known and lesser known stories.

Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel – they are all here amongst the 37 stories for children – but the original versions with the witch who has to dance to her death in burning hot iron shoes, doves that peck the eyes out of the evil sisters – and all those sorts of violent and explicit moral guidances that have been removed from the modern popularised versions. Indeed, reading these the clear role that fairytales and myths played in educating children about the dangers of the forest, of strangers, and of life, comes across loud and clear – indeed, quite graphically.

The king’s mother was an evil woman . . . . A year later, when the queen gave birth to her first child, the old woman took it away and smeared blood on the queen’s mouth while she was sleeping. Then she went straight to the king and accused the mother of eating the baby. [from The Six Swans]

The contemporary sanitising of fairytales effectively eliminates the critical role of stories in allowing children to explore their own boundaries with their imaginations. Instead the sanitisation of Disney, or worse the Barbie range of Fairytopia hideousness, simply renders any sense of moral message or warning mute for the sake of shifting more branded merchandise.

Illustrated lightly with drawings and paintings from different versions of the stories, this has been a great volume to have on hand to counter the inevitable influx of pink princess dross with a bit of grit.

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