Around me, kids get books for Christmas. Toys, games, PlayStations...and books! But I don't reserve the so-called "kids books" like fairy tales only for lucky children on my list: There are plenty of takes on these oft-fearsome folk stories that make perfectly fascinating reading for adults as well.
At the top of this year's list is Phillip Pullman's new Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, in which
the author of the worldwide best-selling Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) retells 50 of the popular stories that were gathered and published by German brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm two hundred years ago.
Pullman's selection is masterful, with old favorites and some less familiar stories (including The Twelve Dancing Princesses, one of my favorites as a child). His storytelling is straightforward and strong, delivering all the surprise, strangeness, heart-truths, and, yes, terror, that we remember--or may have forgotten--of the originals. This was folklore before it was fiction, and the art of making shapely stories from sometimes ungainly material is a fine art indeed.
The New York Review of Books has a gorgeous selection of illustrated tales, both familar and less so, including a newly translated version of Carlos Collodi's non-Disney Pinocchio with an introduction by Umberto Eco and illustrations by famed Italian illustrator Fulvio Testa and reprints of the D'Aulaires titles: D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths and D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls.
Collodi was a nineteenth century Italian writer who fought in the mid-century Italian wars of independence and translated Charles Perrault's fairy tales from the French into Italian. Perhaps stirred by a bit of national pride, he created his own indelible fairy tale character in The Story of a Puppet, a serial in a children's magazine, later collected and published as Pinocchio. The pre-Disney version is different indeed, and Collodi's wooden boy is more obnoxious and, perhaps, interesting, than the smiling, round-eyed version most Americans know.
Trolls and dwarves may fill the screen of the 2012 version of Tolkein's The Hobbit, but they existed in European imagination long before: surly, treasure-hoarding, often hostile troublemakers who lived far from humans and were prone to turn to stone in sunlight. The husband-and-wife team of Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire (he, Swiss; she, Norwegian) were award-winning mid-twentieth-century children's book illustrators whose 1970s work, in particular, retelling the stories of Ingri's Scandinavian heritage, garnered fame and awards galore. The NYRB reissues in 2005 and 2006 got a lot of attention, including mine! I remember being a child and receiving from my grandfather these fabulously colored and exceedingly odd stories, magically arrriving from a New York City bookstore.
No collection of classic fairy tale collections would be complete without at least one volume of Charles Perrault's, the seventeenth-century Frenchman who gave us Tales of Mother Goose, most often published these days as The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, including some of our most beloved stories: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and more. Whether illustrated by Gustave Doré or Harry Clarke, gorgeous editions abound.And what of the quirkier Hans Christian Andersen tales?And of modern takeoffs such as the Sisters Grimm Series and Jay Ward's "Fractured Fairy Tales"? Ah, those tales must wait for another day...