There’s no such thing as new fairy tales. Or so a friend – just back from a teacher’s conference – explained to me. Children can’t be taught to write them, the theory goes, because fairy tales are formed from the slushy undercurrents of a culture’s subconscious and so it takes years for a “once upon a time” to fully form.
I wonder what those theorists will make of J.K. Rowling’s slim new The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
First mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the five tales were initially limited to seven handmade, jewel-bedecked copies that Rowling auctioned to raise money for a children’s charity.
Those of us who could never afford to raise a paddle at Sotheby’s now get our chance to delve – sans emeralds – into “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” and “Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump.” The “new translations,” courtesy of Hermione Granger, are accompanied by scholarly commentary by the late Albus Dumbledore and illustrations by Rowling herself.
Such stories are very similar to Muggle fairy tales, Rowling explains, except that the main characters can perform magic themselves and aren’t prone to “taking a prolonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe.”
The stories range from the humorous “Hopping Pot,” which forces its wizard owner to be nice to his Muggle neighbors, to the bloody “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” my least favorite.
The book is a bit short to justify its $13 price tag. Three or four more tales would make it feel more complete, but fans should find it good fun.
Different from the Muggle world, the commentary here is perhaps more delightful than the stories. So don’t skip the footnotes.
Dumbledore offers historical context and throws in tidbits such as excerpts from the treacly adaptations of Beatrix Bloxam.
While most Muggle parents will probably find the bard’s stories mercifully tame, Mrs. Bloxam worried about “their unhealthy preoccupation with the most horrid subjects, such as death, disease, bloodshed, wicked magic, unwholesome characters, and bodily effusions and eruptions of the most disgusting kind.”
If that weren’t enough to send kids running for a copy, all the profits go to help needy children.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.