A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz (Author)
At the back of this book, the author tells us that it all began with a reading of the Grimm Brothers’ ‘The Seven Ravens’ (or ‘The Seven Swallows’, whichever you prefer) to a group of second-grade schoolchildren. Gidwitz was the teacher, but he wasn’t the one reading the story. Unlike so many versions of the Grimm fairy-tales, this was a faithful retelling. To his surprise, the children were not utterly traumatized by the experience, so he was inspired to go off and write a book encapsulating a collection of these tales.
Our stars are Hansel and Gretel, but the story neither starts nor ends with a trail of breadcrumbs. In a series of grisly adventures that begins with them getting their heads chopped off by their royal parents (and then making a full recovery), they are driven from their home. Fleeing out in search of less murderous parents, they discover a world that seems hell-bent on introducing them to one malignant adult after another.
From the start, Gidwitz establishes the narrator as a character – a knowing, somewhat sardonic voice who peppers his own narration with sceptical remarks, addressing the reader directly and teasing them with false endings and leading questions. It has the style of a skilled oral storyteller about it; though the narration is kept clipped and focussed, there are abrupt flights of fancy and playfully – even gruesomely – dark scenes, some of which parents or teachers might hesitate to read to children, but most kids will eat up by themselves.
Collecting disparate plots into one story does give a somewhat disjointed feel to the narrative at times, but Gidwitz has created a sharp, funny story – a fairy tale with teeth.
This review was published online in