I was surprised at how straightforward his versions of the tales themselves are; there is little trace of his authorial voice here. However, Pullman is a fan of storytelling, not just of telling stories, and his respect for the tradition behind the tales accounts for his minimal presence here. In some of his afterwords he breaks free a bit and talks about how one might have "improved" a tale in this way or that in a literary sense, but how that generally wouldn't be appropriate because, with rare exceptions, none of these tales were very "literary" to begin with. He does make some changes or add material occasionally to a few of the tales, but these are generally created by importing elements from another, analogous version of the tale, a process well in keeping with tradition.
In fact, as Pullman makes clear to readers unfamiliar with the tales' history, the Grimms themselves often changed the tales quite a bit from the versions received from their sources. In addition, they modified tales from edition to edition of their books, usually removing the more disturbing elements to make them more child-friendly as the years passed.
My only complaint with this book? I wish Pullman's afterwords were longer. I realize that the tales themselves are meant to be the main draw here, but I love reading Pullman's thoughts on the craft of storytelling.
For readers who only know their fairy tales from Disney or other modern popularizers, many of the stories here will be shocking in their brutality or darkness. But make no mistake; fairy- and folktales have always acknowledged the fact that life is harsh. Philip Pullman's new edition of the Grimm tales pays tribute to this fact in a very readable and enjoyable collection.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
by Philip Pullman
406 pages, $27.95