Author: Adam Gidwitz
Genre: Horror, Fairy Tale Retellings, Middle Grade
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: October 2010
Hardcover: 251 pages
In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.
Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I remember hearing about how awesome this book was when it came out last year, but never really had the time or drive to pick it up and get it out of the TBR. Then, this year, I saw a copy on my weekend trip to The Strand and I knew it was a sign – time to bust out this title and review it for Halloween Week.
Once upon a time, there was a long line of kings who were all served by the Faithful Johannes. When the former king passes away, he tells Johannes to serve his son as loyally and helpfully as he served him, and his father, and his father’s father, and so on.
Ever faithful, Johannes agrees.
Johannes also agrees to the last king’s wish that his son never see the secret portrait of the golden princess, for fear that the young king would fall hopelessly in love with the cursed woman. But somehow, the young king finds the portrait, and he falls hopelessly in love. When the king steals the golden princess and makes her his new queen, Faithful Johannes learns that great tragedy is in store for his sire and his wife – unless Johannes can stop the curse. And stop them he does, but at great personal cost – for he cannot speak of the curse without damning himself to stone. When the king and queen learn of Johannes’s great act of loyalty, of under-standing (that is, standing beneath them and shouldering their responsibilities and beliefs), the king decides he will do anything to bring Johannes back to life – even behead his own twin children. And behead them he does.
Johannes is restored, the children are saved from their death because of the power of love and sacrifice, and everyone lives happily ever after.
But not really.
You see, these two children are Hansel and Gretel, and when they learn that their father killed them for another, they decide to run away from home (lest he decide to kill them again someday). Together, the twins steal off into the woods, and stumble upon a house made of cake. And so their adventures – a tale very dark and grim indeed – begin.
I loved this book. I loved the whimsical narration style with frequent asides to parents and children (who will, presumably, be reading this book aloud together). I loved the fact that Mr. Gidwitz does not patronize and makes his children protagonists go through some really harrowing, bloody, terrible ordeals. I love that he makes them do this and the only reason they prevail is because they are children. As with authors like C.S. Lewis, Adam Gidwitz knows that children are the true heroes, not their silly parents, and A Tale Dark and Grimm is true to this fact throughout.
The most impressive thing about this novel, however, is as true to the spirit of Grimm’s fairy tales as it is to the substance of those fables. There’s the familiar Hansel and Gretel tale with the witch and her oven, but there’s also the story of seven sparrows, a boy that turns into a beast, a twisted, handsome young man with green eyes and a taste for flesh, trickery and gambling with the devil himself, and a formidable dragon. I loved all of these stories, and how each adventure would bring Hansel and Gretel back on the path towards their true home.
In short, I loved this book. It’s exactly the type of book I would have loved as a child, and exactly the type of book I would give to readers who like their fairy tales with some bite. Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended, and one of my most notable reads of 2011.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Grimm, an old king lay on his deathbed. He was Hansel and Gretel’s grandfather—but he didn’t know that, for neither Hansel nor Gretel had been born yet.
Now hold on a minute. I know what you’re thinking. I am well aware that nobody wants to hear a story that happens before the main characters show up. They’re boring, because they all end exactly the same way. With the main characters showing up. But don’t worry.
This story is like no story you’ve ever heard. You see, Hansel and Gretel don’t just show up at the end of this story.
They show up. And then they get their heads cut off.
Just thought you’d like to know.
The old king knew he was soon to pass from this world, and so he called for his oldest and most faithful servant. The servant’s name was Johannes; but he had served the king’s father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father so loyally that all called him Faithful Johannes.
Johannes tottered in on bowed legs, heaving his crooked back step by step and leering with his one good eye. His long nose sniffed at the air. His mouth puckered around two rotten teeth. But, despite his grotesque appearance, when he came within view, the old king smiled and said, “Ah, Johannes!” and drew him near.
The king’s voice was weak as he said, “I am soon to die. But before I go, you must promise me two things. First, promise that you will be as faithful to my young son as you have been to me.”
Without hesitation, Johannes promised.
The old king went on. “Second, promise that you will show him his entire inheritance—the castle, the treasures, all this fine land—except for one room. Do not show him the room with the portrait of the golden princess. For if he sees the portrait he will fall madly in love with her. And I fear it will cost him his life.”
The king gripped Johannes’s hand. “Promise me.”
Again Johannes promised. Then the wrinkles of worry left the king’s brow, and he closed his eyes and breathed his last.
Soon the prince was crowned as the new king. He was celebrated with parades and toasts and feasts all throughout the kingdom. But, when the revelry finally abated, Johannes sat him down for a talk.
First, Johannes described to him all of the responsibilities of the throne. The young king tried not to fall asleep.
Then he explained that the old king had asked him to show the young king his entire inheritance—the castle, the treasures, all this fine land. At the word “treasures” the young king’s face lit up. Not that he was greedy. It was just that he found the idea of treasure exciting.
Finally, Johannes tried to explain his own role to the young king. “I have served your father, and your father’s father, and your father’s father’s father before that,” Johannes said. The young king started calculating on his fingers how that was even possible, but before he could get very far, Johannes had moved on. “They call me Faithful Johannes because I have devoted my life to the kings of Grimm. To helping them. To advising them. To under-standing them.”
“Understanding them?” the young king asked.
“No. Under-standing them. In the ancient sense of the word. Standing beneath them. Supporting them. Bearing their troubles and their pains on my shoulders.”
The young king thought about this. “So you will under-stand me, too?” he asked.
“I will.” “No matter what?” “Under any circumstances. That is what being faithful means.” “Well, under-stand that I am tired of this, and would like to see the treasures now.” And the young king stood up. Faithful Johannes shook his head and sighed.
You can read the full first chapter online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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