I loved Adam Gidwitz’s book of stories, A Tale Dark and Grimm.
What I loved most about this collection of stories based on Grimms’ fairy tales was that Gidwitz really makes them his own. He’s not afraid to jump into the heart of the stories and pull out their dark secrets. Retelling them with energy and enthusiasm as any wizened storyteller of old would – in his own voice.
This brings life-blood to the tales, helping to keep them fresh and fluid; able to speak to us directly. It means that he takes an original look and sometimes shakes up the details a bit – so that “Little Brother” in this collection has a very different fate to Grimms’ “Little Brother”, who was turned into a deer.
This changes the shape of the story, but not necessarily its essence – and its message becomes all the deeper and more powerful for it.
When the seed of a story grows in the heart of a good storyteller, it is strong enough to adapt. The cultural clothing may change, but the spirit of the story is unharmed.
That’s always been the best way to keep a story alive.
Gidwitz also makes effective use of detail and description. Not what you’d necessarily expect to find in tales from the oral tradition, but they add rich depth to these literary renditions without stultifying the story.
This description of Faithful Johannes ensures that we know who he is throughout the book, even if the other characters don’t recognise him:
“Johannes tottered in on bowed legs, heaving his crooked back step by step and leering with his one good eye. His long nose sniffed the air. His mouth puckered round two rotten teeth.”
Finely balanced with the detailed imagery is Gidwitz’s skill as a storyteller to maintain the swift pace and bloody action of the original Grimm versions of the fairy tales. Although he has woven a good selection of the more famous and lesser-known tales together into one seamless narrative, he retains the short-story format, which works to keep readers’ attention piqued – particularly reluctant “tween” readers, who would benefit so much from reading this book.
His humorous narrative interjections help to build tension, create fluency and show that he knows exactly where his readers are coming from.
“Now, dear reader, I seem to detect in you a growing unease about this handsome young man.”
His main focus for these stories is the “dark and Grimm” side of the tales – the details that have been sanitised out of the mainstream collections of fairy tales – and he uses this motif to revel in the gruesome events that make his stories appealing to young and old alike, but particularly to the young. His readers can delight in the blood and gore of the German fairy tale forest, knowing that what happens in the book is a story, that the characters are fantastical, and that it will all end happily ever after. Eventually.
But that’s also what makes this collection of stories so wise and so necessary. Gidwitz recognises that
“in life, it is in the darkest parts one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.”
And it’s this beauty and wisdom that ultimately shines through the stories in this book – told so vibrantly and enjoyably in Gidwtiz’s unique storytelling style.
The UK version was published in 2011 by Andersen Press, and I got my hands on a copy towards the end of 2012 for a really good read.