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A Tale Dark & Grimm

By Adam Gidwitz

Reviewed by Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for both boys and girls equally. Ages 10 and Up if they’re quite mature readers with strong stomachs, but more conservatively, 12 and Up for gleefully gratuitous violence.

One Word Summary: Playful.

Even as we knew them, fairy tales were a rather nasty business. From the woodcutter hacking open the wolf to free Little Red Riding Hood, to Jack the ‘Giant Killer’, faithful adaptations of these grizzly works

would struggle to garner a G-rating for their target audiences. Adam Gidwitz has taken that notion and run with it, creating a new depiction of several stories from the Grimm universe and smattering them with generous streaks of blood and gore, like a psychopathic Jackson Pollock.

To hold these separate stories together, A Tale Dark & Grimm features Hansel and Gretel as protagonists throughout, wandering out of their own vignette and taking starring roles in other classic stories where they weren’t before. The siblings aren’t just greedy children gobbling down that poor, misunderstood woman’s dream cottage (I’d shove them in the oven too for that), they’re now dragon slayers, devil vanquishers, and army raisers, set on a long journey to find a decent set of parents. True to its source material, adults come in just two varieties in Dark & Grimm: useless and downright evil, with few exceptions. Much is asked of the children during their quest. As they conquer foes, incurring both battle wounds and wisdom along the way, Hansel and Gretel are forced to wonder if they even truly

need parents after all, if they might not be better off without the polluted, conniving parental figures they continue to encounter.

The actual plot of the story, though absorbing, takes a backseat to the concept of the book and its narrative devise: An experiment in meddling with these well worn stories that indeed succeeds at being fresh and fun. In a stroke that feels informed by filmic adaptations like ‘The Princess Bride’ the omniscient narrator often breaks into the story with his own asides and advice to readers. The narrator’s voice (Gidwitz’s?) stands somewhere between child-like fairy tale enthusiast (“Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.”) and learned guide through this grizzly world (“Before I go on, a word of warning…”). It’s this winning combination that really makes the book, the rollicking joviality and delight in prancing through this well-known universe, with a revisionist paintbrush in hand. The aim of the book seems less about exploring the characters (who are on the thin side, but no matter) than about playing with the medium. As the plot bounces like a fevered ping-pong ball from daring scene to scene, merrily so, readers are treated to a genuine enthusiasm and a carefree focus on creating a good old-fashioned yarn.

© Jordan B. Nielsen, 2012