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31 May 2012

'The Annotated Brothers Grimm' edited with a preface and notes by Maria Tatar - 'The Last Unicorn' by Peter S. Beagle

Never too old for fairy tales!

As a child I did not read fairy tales.  My mother read them out loud instead.  We were living in a strange country and knew no one.  We spent a great deal of time with our mother.  In retrospect it seems strange that with all the children's literature available in my mother's native tongue, she chose to read us stories of Germanic origin.  The castles, knights, princesses even the stars, sun and moon represented different things in our culture.  They represented conquest and perhaps a bit of envy but I did not know that then.

The stories themselves were the food of my fantasy life (though I must include Japanese animation, but that's beside the point..)  They seemed to open the doors and windows into other worlds.  A fairy tale never really ends.  To me a fairy tale is about beginnings... to grow up, to marry, to discover your own courage, brains, cunning or even luck are all tools you find to build a future, not an end in themselves.

Thinking about the stories my mother read always left me feeling insecure, now I would call it a whiff of Disney.  How shocked I was to read a much bloodier version of Cinderella (probably French) with those cut off toes and heels.  Snow White was another surprise.  She was truly battered by the time she reached the cottage and the witch queen's demise was horrifying.  Nevertheless, I would have appreciated stories that did not leave me so suspicious, you know, smelling Disney colored roses.  It turns out that the final version the brothers Grimm published was quite satisfying.  I recommend the annotations as a real hook to grown ups.  More over, my kids love it when I can add a little fact or disgusting detail to stories they think they know.  It makes them feel that all those questions answered with the notorious "when you are older" are actually being answered.  An annotated version of anything is invaluable in this respect.  This annotated version also tries to balance the great sex divide in fairy tales which might engage boys more.

'The Last Unicorn' is a 20th century fairy tale that feels as old and immortal as he unicorns themselves.  I saw a movie version at least 30 years ago.  I was fascinated by the failure of humans even when in love.  I was also fascinated by how they all pinned their hopes on a creature with its own mind and worries.  I found the book a few years back and was enchanted all over again.  This is a beautiful fairy tale indeed without all the difficult bits cut out.

Tales like these encourage us because they do not lie about our weaknesses, failure or stupidity.  The heroes often need help, guides and signs (usually all of the them several times over).  But these are not post-apocalyptic stories about societies in ruins instead they are about the potential of weak and often stupid individuals who manage to build a happily ever after.

ISBN: 9780393088861
ISBN: 9780451450524

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