Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman

Fine, but who is this book for?

😐 😐 😐

UK Version
UK Version
Pullman’s versions of some of the Grimms’ folk stories are well enough written and his little summaries at the end of each tale give a bit of background to where each story originated and the different versions that have been told in the past. But from the moment I received the book and discovered that, to my amazement, there are no illustrations, I couldn’t help but wonder – who exactly is this book for?

Pullman has updated the language but not the stories, so we have dreadful clashes like princesses in mediaeval castles talking about weapons of mass destruction or giants saying ‘Respect!’. This kind of pantomime humour made me think the books must be aimed at a young audience but then where are those missing illustrations? I also couldn’t help feeling that with language like this Pullman’s versions will date much more quickly than those I read in my childhood. Also Pullman has deliberately gone back to the unbowdlerised versions of many of the stories and I’m not sure that I’d be happy to be reading some of these to my (mythical) young children. Rapunzel getting pregnant without really understanding what was happening to her? Houses described as being as filthy as ‘pisspots’? Must be for a teenage or adult audience then? But if so, what do these versions add to the ones we all read when we were young? For me, the answer to that question was nothing much, I’m afraid.

Rackham's Hansel and Gretel - an example of what this book DOESN'T have...
Rackham’s Hansel and Gretel – an example of what this book DOESN’T have…

In the end I came to the conclusion that the book is in fact aimed at a very specific target audience – Pullman fans. I doubt this will gain him many new ones, nor is it intriguing or different enough to draw in many fans of folk tales. Not a bad book, exactly, but I doubt if, in the long run, it will challenge the classic versions of Grimms’ that are already out there.

The US version
The US version
An interesting note – when first published in the UK this book was titled ‘Grimm Tales: For Young and Old’. I see that the title has been changed for the US version to ‘Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version’. I wonder if perhaps that’s been a response to the somewhat lukewarm reception the lack of illustrations and unbowdlerised language caused this book to have amongst many reviewers in Britain?

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

8 thoughts on “Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman

  1. :: I quoted and linked your terrific review of the Pullman book while addressing the theme “Goodbye Innocence, Kids, Books and Dogs” on our monthly blog:
    I especially liked the question: “who is this book for?” as well as your entire review. I posted it next to an admiring review by a man named Kevin who writes “Collected Miscellany”.
    If you are curious as to a contemporary “fairy tale”, take a look at; there you will find sample chapters of the Planet Of The Dogs Series for kids and dog lovers. I’ll send you complimentary reader copies of one or all of the Planet Of The Dogs series if you send me a postal address. My email:

    Best wishes,
    Robert McCarty
    Barking Planet Productions


    • Thanks for the compliment and the kind offer, Robert. I won’t take you up on it though, simply because being a childfree zone I don’t think I’m best placed to judge children’s books. I enjoyed looking at your website though, and find it interesting how the concept of what’s considered suitable for children has changed over the years. Some of the Grimms stuff does seem particularly horrifying – more than I remember from my own childhood. Whether that’s because I read watered-down versions or whether my acceptance levels were higher as a child than now, I don’t know – a combination of both, I suspect.

      Best of luck with your books and thanks again for your comments. 🙂


    • Ah, but I had been reviewing on Amazon for a couple of years before I started blogging so had a big backlog of reviews ready to post. I’m slowing down now…! 😉

      Thanks for popping by and commenting! 😀


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