Monday, November 26, 2012

Sara's Library: A Tale Dark and Grimm

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Dutton Juvenile 2010
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 2010

As someone rather enthralled by fairy tales, I had been very excited to read Mr. Gidwitz's novel, especially after a number of my Goodreads friends rated it highly.  It's not that I disliked it; I enjoyed it for what it was. I think I was just expecting something more.

The novel takes a number of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, both familiar and more obscure ("Faithful Johannes," one of my favorites is the very first tale) and connects them by the conceit that the brother and sister (or sometimes brothers) in the various stories were always the same children: Hansel and Gretel.  Thus, the events in one story often lead directly into the events of another.  It's a great concept, but I had a few issues with the novel.

Perhaps because Mr. Gidwitz is attempting to emulate the style of storytelling used in the original tales, perhaps for other reasons, there is little character development, even with the protagonists.  The peripheral characters fall into two groups: those who aid the siblings and those who try to harm them.  So, I suppose this is a continuation of the very basic notions of good and evil present in the original tales.  However, I feel that modern readers are more sophisticated in their understanding of motivation and morality and would have preferred better representation of life's grey areas.

My other issue with the book was the frequent breaking of the fourth wall by an irritating narrator whose delight in reminding readers that this isn't Disney and that violence will happen truly grated on my nerves.  Unlike the narrator in A Series of Unfortunate Events, who was amusingly snarky and often useful in explaining vocabulary words to child readers, the narrator's presence here is completely unnecessary after the introduction.

While I appreciate what Mr. Gidwitz is attempting to do with this work and hope that he succeeds in sparking an interest in folk lore in the grade school set, adult readers (especially those whose interests in fairy tales tend more toward the scholarly) may be disappointed.

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