Grimm Tales for Young and Old – Philip Pullman

So, I keep saying that I’ll get back to blogging, and I keep not. If you’re hanging in there, thank you! Life has been unsettling lately, and since Christmas, work has been busy too – I’m not complaining, mark you!

Anyway, I have finally finished reading Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old (Penguin, 2012), which I have been working through, on and off, for months. It is, as the name suggests, his retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s fairytales – isn’t it interesting how that Germanic formulation persists in English? I’m not sure whether or not it counts as translation. Perhaps it’s intralingual translation, as he seems to be mainly working from traditional English versions of the text. On the other hand, he does occasionally discuss the original German text, especially where a word is particularly interesting or hard to pin down, or where it comes from a particular dialect, suggesting that Pulman is fairly well at home in the German language. Given all that, it would be nice if there were some kind of acknowledement of the generations of translators on whose shoulders his retellings are standing…

Still, it’s a fun read, and the little notes after each story are interesting. Some of them discuss the stories and their inconsistencies, weak points etc – occasionally veering into religious/anti-religious debate as you might expect, while others talk about how Pullman himself would have improved them if they’d been written today as a novel, or how different versions from around the world approach the stories.

There’s similar variation in the stories themselves – some are familiar, others obscure. Some are rich in details and others the merest sketches. Some are startling in their violence or perplexing in their piety. On the whole though, there’s something for everything here, and I’ve enjoyed the experience.

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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