Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grimm's Fairytale Food by Bee Wilson


Here are the covers for Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman. So which cover do you prefer? The first is the US edition and the second is the UK. And this time I have to admit I am drawn to both since they are just so very different from each other and their strengths are polar opposite. But these are still a month away from release but I wanted to share a recent article about the book. The book will be released in September in the UK and in November in the US.

From Grimm's fairytale food by Bee Wilson:

Grimm's Fairy Tales, first published in 1812, are about many things: magic and families, wickedness and talking animals. But running through many of them is a brutal obsession with food. The Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm) collected stories of hunger: what horrors it will drive some people to and how sweet it feels to satisfy it.

The end of September sees a new version of 50 of the tales from Philip Pullman, Grimm Tales: For Young and Old (Penguin, £20). Pullman has wisely changed the tales very little. But he does sprinkle them with new imaginative details, and he has fleshed out many of the meals. In one story the Brothers Grimm say that a greedy stepsister brings bread and cake on a journey. Pullman changes this to chicken-liver pâté sandwiches and chocolate cake.

In another tale ('One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes') a girl meets a magic goat who can summon up delicious meals for her. Pullman imagines exactly how delicious: 'leek soup, roast chicken and strawberries and cream'. What Pullman doesn't change is the utter fixation of the Grimms with hunger.


Jacob and Wilhelm knew the pain of an empty belly. Despite a comfortable background, they were plunged into hardship when their father died of pneumonia in 1796. By the time they were writing their collection of folklore in the early 1800s they were depriving themselves of food to support younger siblings. At breakfast they drank a single cup of coffee. Their only meal was a five o'clock dinner, three portions shared between five people. To add to the misery, Jacob wrote of how he missed the 'order' of mealtimes at his mother's table (she died in 1808).

Part of what gives these tales such enduring power is their sense of home, intimately connected to the security of being fed. There is a voice that pops up repeatedly in Grimm. It says, 'I'll tell you a secret and you won't be hungry anymore.' This is still a magical thing to hear before you go to sleep.


  1. Beautiful attention paid to a very interesting detail. Can't wait for Pullman's translation to come out!