Title: A Tale Dark and Grimm
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Publisher: Walker Books/Andersen Press
Published: 2nd February 2022
Synopsis: A gruesome but funny retelling of Grimm’s terrifying tales. Soon to be a Netflix animated series!
Reader: beware. Warlocks with dark spells, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens retrofitted for cooking children lurk within these pages. But if you dare, turn the page and learn the true story of Hansel and Gretel – the story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses and outwitted witches. Come on in. It may be frightening, it’s certainly bloody, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
- The Grimm Trilogy has been on The New York Times Bestsellers list for a total of 16 weeks
- Soon to be a Netflix animated series.
- Sales for across the series now exceed a quarter of a million copies
Many fairy tale retellings, and indeed the traditional fairy tales, are often sanitised for children, most notably, Disney’s interpretations, and many picture book and fairy tale collections. Of course, there are the originals and the retellings that are not quite as sanitised, like Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, or historical fiction that has been influenced by fairy tales, usually for adults. And the latest fairy tale retelling that is a little darker than the usual retelling and just as dark, if not a little darker than the originals, is the Grimm Trilogy by Adam Gidwitz. The latest in the trilogy takes the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, and mashes it together with Faithful Johannes, and other themes from fairy tales and fantasy – the Devil, curses, witches, spells, and dragons abound in this novel of what could be short stories or chapters – as each feel individual yet also, are cleverly linked through the characters of Hansel and Gretel and their search for a family who won’t hurt them or take advantage of them.
In this story, we begin with Faithful Johannes, and the tale of a queen who can never keep a husband because they keep dying. Eventually, she marries her husband and has two children – Hansel and Gretel, who run away after their father sacrifices them (and then brings them back to life). And so begins their quest to find a new family – and where they encounter cannibalistic women, fathers who wish away their seven sons, the Devil, separation from each other, and lots of gore – so these stories are not for the faint-hearted! They bring a new dimension to the original tales, which were originally oral tales, told by women in 1870s Germany – before it became a unified nation, and as such, have a sense of this tradition about them, as there is a narrator who often intrudes upon each tale to give warnings or suggestions about keeping younger children away lest their older siblings terrify them with these dark tales.
As someone who has studied fairy tales and children’s literature, this is the kind of book that sits well in the middle grade to lower young adult readership – and even beyond that, as the author does indicate throughout that some scenes might not be right for sensitive readers. What I liked about this book was the way it took the traditional fairy tales and the essence and spirit of fables, fairy tales and fantasy tropes and literature, and whilst including as many as possible, created a succinct, creative and well-thought-out narrative that was presented using humour where necessary, and as deliciously dark and whimsical.
Much like the original fairy tales, there is a sense of journey, of place, and of timelessness about these tales as our heroes traverse their homeland – which feels like a fantasy version of Germany based on place names, and we get to enjoy the hallmarks of fantasy literature like dragons, whilst cheering for Gretel and hoping her and her brother, Hansel, can save the day and their family. It captures the essence of fairy tales, and the magic of fantasy in an entertaining and fun way for readers aged eight and over, and shows that imagination and sacrifice are powerful. And sometimes, it is the child characters who save the day – in a wonderfully cyclical way in this story that will make sense when you read it.