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News & Features » November 2013 » Review: Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm Translated from the German by Peter Wortsman

Review: Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm Translated from the German by Peter Wortsman

Grimm-Cover1Archipelago Books | May 2013 | Reviewed by Alia Maria Almedia

Our life—well, actually, I can’t speak for you—MY life is frittered away with detail, a condition that is perpetuated by an overflow of social media such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook; being a newly post-grad twentysomething; and living in a city that is so deeply immersed in self-identity, even dogs feel a need to wear clothes. As a result, I chose to go back to basics by reading Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Peter Wortsman.

The book starts off with “The Golden Key,” which was a meta experience, as if Wortsman was telling the reader, “You are that boy who found a key and a little iron box. Now open it and find out what’s inside.” After that one-pager, it’s all murder and faithful servants and wits battling and then some. Selected Tales is NOT a collection of fairy tales that have PG ratings. For instance, Cinderella’s stepsisters are not ugly until after they cut their heels off to fit into the lost shoe, and their eyes pecked out by birds when trying to enter the church for Cinderella’s wedding. Then again, that’s not ugly—that’s downright scary. I’m reminded a bit of Lady Macbeth, actually . . . but she would never suffer for fashion, or whatever.

As in true life, nobody—not even a hero—is safe from a macabre deformation, demise, or desire. The titular girl from “The Girl with No Hands” has no hands due to a deal her father struck with the devil. She ends up marrying a king who fashions silver hands for her à la Peter Pettigrew’s. (But don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the ending for you at all.) Let’s talk about “Rumpelstilzchen,” for a second: this guy has ALWAYS wanted the Queen’s firstborn to eat. What I mean by this is that nobody has ever wanted to change this storyline. People thought cannibalism is fine, but couldn’t deal with hacking heels off and pecked-out eyes? Then again, that’s not the first cannibal in this collection of dark stories (I’m looking at you, Robber Bridegroom).

Cannibalism aside, if you don’t think you can learn something from reading fairy tales, you’re incredibly wrong.

The Grimm Brothers, and by extension Peter Wortsman, are successful in coloring in-depth human character. They illustrate humans at their worst and best in the most bizarre of circumstances. Right now, “Faithful Johannes” comes to mind, as nothing can deter Johannes from staying loyal to his king, not even death. The complete feel of these stories are to be commended always, considering there are few key details. “All-Kind-of-Hide” mentions three dresses and a coat that are simply described as thus: “one as golden as the sun, one as silvery as the moon, and one as sparkling as the stars . . . . a coat of a thousand kinds of fur and hides.” We don’t read much else because we don’t need to; the luxury of these clothes speak yards. For all the simplicity of these stories, they are steeped in plot and pacing, reminding us sometimes human nature comes down to good and bad, ugly and pretty, inside or out.


For more information, or to purchase a copy, please visit Archipelago Books.

Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm
Translated from the German by Peter Wortsman
With illustrations by contemporary Haitian artists
May 14, 2013
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781935744764

Posted: Nov 13, 2013

Category: Akashic in Good Company | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,