He has already taken on the story of the New Testament in The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Canongate, £10.99); now, Philip Pullman is to rewrite 50 Grimm fairy tales, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of their first publication. Penguin Classics will publish the tales on 6 September. Pullman has long counted himself as a fan of the stories, and has been working on his own versions for some time. Last year, he told the fansite bridgetothestars.net: "This isn't a book for children only. I'm telling the best of the tales in my own voice, and I'm finding it a great purifier of narrative thinking, rather as a pianist relishes playing Bach's preludes and fugues as a sort of palate-cleansing discipline."
Pullman's collection will include many of the best-known fairy tales – "Rapunzel", "Snow White", "Cinderella" and "Little Red Riding Hood" – as well as other, lesser-known works. His favourite, he says, is "The Juniper Tree" – a sordid tale of an evil stepmother who murders her stepson and makes him into blood puddings. He has also included "The Three Snake Leaves", "Hans My Hedgehog" and "Godfather Death".
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began collecting German folklore from peasants and the middle classes in about 1806. They were also the authors of various cultural mythologies, and a German dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch. Seven editions of the collected fairy tales were published between 1812 and 1857. In all, there were 211 tales.
The tales are available in more than 100 translations, and have been used in Jungian analysis, Nazi propaganda, and Disney movies. There are two Brothers Grimm theme parks in Japan.
As if there were not enough Grimm fairy tales to go around, this year there will be two new Hollywood versions of Snow White. Next month there is Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White, starring Lily Collins as the little girl with "skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony", Julia Roberts as the evil queen and Sean Bean as the king. Then in June comes Snow White and the Huntsman, with Twilight's Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Charlize Theron as the queen. Last month, Scottish Opera received rave reviews for its Hansel and Gretel, in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Although the stories were sanitised by the Brothers Grimm because early editions were criticised for being unsuitable for children (in the folk tale, Rapunzel accidentally reveals that the prince has been surreptitiously climbing up her tower when she asks why her dress is becoming tight around her belly), some of the tales are still near the knuckle. In January, to mark the UK launch of the US TV series Grimm, a survey of 2,000 parents found that half didn't read "Rumpelstiltskin" to their children because it is too scary, and a third said that "Little Red Riding Hood" has reduced their children to tears.
Top modern Grimm-themed books include: The Annotated Brothers Grimm, edited by Maria Tatar and with an introduction by AS Byatt – which includes a revealing biography of Jacob and Wilhelm and explores the origins and effects of the stories; the beautiful The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, published last year by Taschen; From The Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, by Marina Warner; and Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with Illustrations by David Hockney, republished by the Royal Society of Arts.
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