A mordantly witty, slyly intelligent take on the Brothers Grimm and their folktales, as seen from the viewpoint of a man-eating (or, more precisely, child-eating) wolf that they attempt to subdue. Schmitz (Lost Souls, not reviewed) imagines the brothers (ponderous, pompous Wilhelm and sly, cruel, beguiling Jacob) encountering, one dark night in a mysterious forest (populated by trolls, ghosts, and at least one devil), a talking wolf. Astonished, and then intrigued, Jacob attempts to seduce the wolf into recording his life story, quickly wringing from him the confession that his greatest pleasure, pursuing and eating the children who occasionally stray into the forest, has made him an outcast, shunned by other wolves, and perpetually hunted by men. The brothers, in the midst of gathering the folktales that (they are already convinced) will make them famous, see in the wolf a chance to garner unique material, while the wolf, in thrall to and repulsed by his appetite for humans, sees a chance to reform, to become more pacific and less wolflike, perhaps even to be happy. He agrees to allow the brothers to attempt a "cure." The wolf's voice dominates the tale. Sad and scornful by turn, haunted by its obsession, driven by a yearning to escape a life seemingly defined by violence, the voice charms, rages, and laments, in a language that nicely reflects the mingled quaintness and vigor of the Grimms' own tales. Beating the brothers at their own game, Schmitz conjures up an animal that has more intelligence and wit than the humans hungering to destroy it. Things turn nasty when the wolf finally stumbles on the brothers— plot to kill him. Along the way, Schmitz offers a droll revisionist portrait of the Grimms as hustling, would-be bourgeois, and a witty send-up of a variety of modern theories about the origins of violence and character. An artful, ironic updating of venerable material, done with zest and great originality.
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