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Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Adapted by David Wenzel and Douglas Wheeler. New York: NBM, 1995. 1v. (unpaged). $15.95hc. ISBN 1-56163-130-2.

Fantasy; folklore

Kids, adults, teens; fairy-tale violence

This book contains three stories based on the fairy tales set down at one point or another by the Brothers Grimm: "Little Snow White" (by far the longest piece), "The Shoemaker and the Elves," and "The Three Sluggards." "Little Snow White" is the "cruel and scary" version, which makes the evil Queen into a beautiful blonde murderer (she kills the huntsman for sparing Snow White when he was supposed to cut out her heart; orders the hanging death of a soldier who, while she's in disguise, addresses her as "Old Hag"; and throws an old lady into the dungeon simply to take her clothes and apples). She also meets her end by dancing in red-hot iron slippers. "The Shoemaker and the Elves" is a straightforward retelling of the standard story, and "The Three Sluggards" is a single-page story of how a king challenges his three lazy sons: the laziest will receive the kingdom.

Not much to say about the stories, since they're pretty faithful retellings of the classics. One can argue that the dwarves' conditions for allowing Snow White to stay--"If you will keep our home in order for us, and cook, and wash, and make our beds, and knit, and spin, and keep everything tidy and clean, then you may stay here with us, and we will take good care of you"--would send the average princess screaming into the night, but fairy tales have never been known for their amazing logic. (Snow White is a mere seven years of age when she flees the queen, making the dwarves' demands on her little short of ludicrous.) Also note that she spends seven years growing up in that glass coffin, so that she's only 14 when the prince awakens her. But, again, this is a fairy tale.

"Shoemaker" is easily the most charming of the stories. "Sluggards" is one of those weird little throwaway fairy tales; it was probably meant to satirize the perceived laziness and worthlessness of royalty. It isn't a tale well suited for visual adaptation; the panels merely depict lazy fat men lying around and talking.

Wenzel's watercolors are, as usual, pleasant to look upon and loaded with charm--they're perfect for this kind of fantasy illustration. They're softer than his famous work in The Hobbit but very evocative, very detailed. I love how he made the evil Queen into a genuinely beautiful woman with no initial weirdness to her appearance; only after she sank into jealousy did she start looking scary.

Kids should enjoy this book, as should fans of Wenzel and students of fairy tales.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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