Fourteen familiar tales are retold in their simplest and most bloodless forms for reading aloud to very young children—an approach somewhat subverted by Hague’s powerful and somewhat surreal pictures.
It opens with “Beauty and the Beast,” and the Beast is genuinely terrifying. Cinderella’s sisters are forgiven so long as they “promise to be good.” Rumpelstiltskin does not tear himself in two but disappears in a huff. Snow White’s lips are “red as a rose,” and the evil queen’s fate is elided. The stories are kept quite short, and usually, as in “The Ugly Duckling” and “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the moral or lesson is writ large. Perhaps the least familiar tale is that of “The Seven Ravens,” in which a girl saves her seven brothers, who had been turned birds—an act that involves her cutting off her little finger. Hague’s illustrations are rich in saturated color and sinuous line, and they owe a debt to both the painter Gustav Klimt and the illustrator Arthur Rackham. Some of the motifs seem familiar from other images in Hague’s long career of illustrating fairy tales.
It could be argued that simplifying and softening these tales does neither the stories nor their audience any good, but for those who want short and sweet versions, they are here. (Fairy tales. 4-7)