I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Schwarzwald of late (a.k.a. the dark forest where all the boogeymen live). Last week, I taught Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which I’ve covered elsewhere on the blog.
Last night, put in the right mood by Carter, I picked up Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm, a book that also looks at the Grimms through a glass darkly. But this book is meant for young people. And they should beware. Entering this book leaves dark trails on your thoughts. The seeds of the stories sprouted in the shadowy corners of my room late last night, making the old piece of driftwood hanging on my wall look rather like an old crone’s claw.
Gidwitz’s tribute to the Grimm Brothers is a rather rollicking affair, a sinister, tongue-in-cheek storyteller walking the reader through the funhouse of Grimm’s tales. Carnivalesque in its violence, A Tale Dark and Grimm is rather grim for a young reader (I’d say the best age group for this outing is ages 10-14). Any younger, and they might be afraid to go to bed because a Mama-like figure could be crawling out of the walls.
Like the film Mama, this book centers on two small children who find themselves lost in the woods (riffing on the plot of “Hansel and Gretel”). The revisions of the tales from the children’s perspective are utterly unsettling. In the revision of “Hansel and Gretel” itself, for example, the “witch” is not a witch at all, but an old baker woman who has developed a taste for children’s flesh after accidentally “tasting” her offspring during that age-old mommy game of “you are soooo cute, I could eat you right up” (num … num … num).
I highly recommend this book if you are a twisted reader like myself, if you enjoy someone taking something you love dearly, tearing it to shreds, and making a crazy-quilt of a book out of what’s leftover. Gidwitz nails the tone that makes the tales of the Grimms and Perrault so appealing in the first place. His book is darkly poetic, provocative, and true. To put it in Gidwitz’s words, “In the darkest zones, one finds the brightest beauty, the most luminous wisdom… And the most blood.” J