Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grimm’s Last Fairytale (Haydn Middleton)

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were collectors of fairy tales (amongst other scholarly pursuits) and Middleton has created a novel telling the parts of their story where history has been lost to us. I’ve no idea what they would think of the Disney-fied versions of their people’s folklore, but from reading this novel, I have a feeling they’d shake their heads in despair for today’s society.

Middleton fills out the Grimms’ story by using 3 threads: a “current” narrative about Jacob’s homecoming tour, flashbacks to his childhood and early adulthood (especially in regard to his brother), and a very different version (one on the grisly end of the spectrum) of Sleeping Beauty than any I’ve yet to see. Middleton did very well with the transitions between them, and each was flavored distinctively enough that I had no trouble following each of the threads and seeing their connections.

Another sub-plot which I found both interesting and informative was Auguste’s quest for truth (and for love), and what Kummel’s place was in the overall metaphor of the story. I won’t ruin it, but will say that for some authors, there are truly no minor or useless characters, and that Middleton demonstrates this very well.

In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, Haydn suggests several books for further reading, one of which is Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, which, coincidentally, I had chosen as another read in the same challenge for which I’d read this book. Other titles are: The Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Routledge and Kegan Paul), The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ fairy Tales (Maria Tatar), Paths Through the Forest (MUrray B. Peppard), and The Brothers Grimm and Their critics (Christa Kamenetsky).

I made this my bedtime read for several days, but I still managed to stay alsert enough to take note of the following significant passages:

“A long time ago, when wishing was still of use...”
This seems to be the traditional opening for the tales collected in the Grimms’ home country. Sets quite a different tone than what we use today (“once upon a time...”), and is also indicative of the people’s mood at that time in their history.

“Boys don’t tell stories. Not men either. There’s no Father Goose, is there? Only maids and mothers.”
Another societal indicator, as seen through the eyes of young Wilhelm, long before he knew what he and Jacob would do to make a living. I for one am glad that they shattered this stereotype so that other men could add their voices to the mix. My world would definitely be lesser if Gaiman and deLint weren’t writing.

“...there were far better things to love than a country. A country, after all, can never love you back.”
An especially touching quote, given today’s state of veteran care; a few good developments, but thousands un- or under-treated.

“...never be distracted from the written word. Talk can always wait.”
*sigh* A girl can dream. Too bad society takes the opposite stance.

“The pure good and the pure evil--it’s right for children to know all about that, and in such beautiful language, too.”
I could craft a lenghty rant about how we’re doing a disservice to our children when we neglect to prepare them for encounter with evil, but I won’t, for the sake of staying on-task. I hope to give my children version of fairy and folk takes that haven’t been Hollywood-ized to death.

“Not law, but literature--spoken, written, shared, passed on--that is the common bond uniting the entire German Volk.”
I’ll agree that one gets a very different sort of society when its focus is on the first to the detriment of the other. I often wonder whether a return to a study of the classics would be appropriate or desirable to today’s students, or if our culture is too far gone to take anything positive from them.

“Taken as a whole, the tales’ range of raw emotion was almost overwhelming. Spite, envy, malice, dread, obsession, love: they all roiled up off the pages like steam.”
I think that this is the mark of a good story, that it actually touches us on an emotional level, instead of just demonstrating the tribulations of the characters.

“For what was national pride but a hollow form of ancestor-worship? And what did natonal differences really mean?”
So, is there no other (new) place for the immigrant? How many generations does it take before a family is made welcome? Why have Americans so conveniently forgotten who was here first?

“What a people says is, after all, essentially what that people is.”
For me, this ties together two of the quotes above: a people’s common bond through literature, and Americans’ apparent lack of cohesion due to a variance of voices.

“The tales contain our volkisch spirit, our vital soul. The fact that we share them helps to make us a Volk in the first place.”
A few months ago, I read and reviewed Fahrenheit 451, and was deeply affected by Bradbury’s take on a society that had ceased sharing stories. As I’d said in the review, that thought makes me cling to my books and my writing all the harder.

“It was Schiller who claimed that the fairytales of his childhood had a deeper meaning than the truths taught by life.”
I don’t know the quote verbatim, and I’m not sure if my source is the original, but it has been said that the best part of a fictional work is the truth it holds, or reveals about life. After having read this, I think about my reading material very differently.

“ ‘Thought is the lightning,’ he once said, comically waving his arms for her like a spoof shaman, ‘words the thunder, consonants the bones and vowels the very blood of language.’ “
Aside from being very poetic, this reminds me of another quote about how easy it is to write, and all that’s necessary is to open a vein.

“Nothing would be the same once he was gone. A door to the past would be closed forever.”
As it is with all who die. No matter how insignificant we can come to feel, our presence here matters not just to the here and now, but to the past we’ve known.

“His mistake perhaps had been to stay in a world already mapped out by others, and not gone on to chart one of his own.” This is one of the basic themes laid out in many fairy tales, and one which people struggle with now. Are there new courses to chart anymore?

“But he was not her prince, and her heart was not at home on this map. Love was another realm again. A country whose borders she guessed she would only ever cross for visits, just long enough to satisfy herself that it was there.”
Just as there are those who aren’t suited to conventional professions, there are some people who simply aren’t geared toward committed lifelong relationships. It seems to me that a society that doesn’t allow for this creates a lot of problems when pairing-off is legislated too strictly.


Rose City Reader said...

Wow! What a great review. I loved (and feared) Grimms' fairytales as a kid. Your review makes me want to go back and live in their world again. I'll add this book to my TBR list!

Marina said...

Thank you--this isn't very recently published book, but I've found some really nice gems on my long-standing TBR list. The author made it easy to think deeply about.

Anonymous said...

Hello Marina!

I am an online book publicist and I work to connect online writers with the projects I am currently working on. I want to invite you to stop by my site (link below) and see if there are any titles that may interest you for review on your blog.

I, also, enjoyed the Middleton review. Have you ever read Angela Carter's THE BLOODY CHAMBER? If you enjoy Grimm stories, you will equally enjoy this collection.

I hope to work with you in the future!

Lisa Roe
Online Publicist