A magically rich fictionalizing of the lives of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, interwoven with a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, by a prolific children’s and adult author (The Collapsing Castle, 1991, etc.).
Middleton, an expert on Celtic myth, loves opalescent fantasy and sensuous realism. The first of three parallel stories here is the sentimental journey of Professor Jacob Grimm in his last year of life (at 78) to his childhood home in 1863. Jacob, who first wrote down the tales later prettified by Wilhelm, knows every roadside plant and tree he hasn't seen since his teens. Clearly a linguistic genius, he is assembling a vast set of books that gather together every word in the German language (a project completed by others in 1954). He recalls his childhood home life with Mother Grimm and little Wilhelm, and Mother's delight in hair-raising fairy tales, self-slain families, and suicides. The story of Sleeping Beauty emerges when Old One, the eldest child of an overly prolific mother, is cast out and told henceforth to call himself a prince and to present himself at the palace of the Rose King beyond the forest. But first, of course, he must go through the teasingly erotic, feathery, Edenic woods to get there. Back in 1863, Jacob has been joined by his late brother's daughter Auguste, now 31 (and destined to die a spinster in 1919), who wants to get family secrets out of her close-mouthed uncle. Helping them is the young manservant Kummel, whose life hides secrets of its own. The three stories play against a background of small states in Germany soon to join into the Reich that Bismarck will found on blood and iron.
Images gutter in candleflame or rise in snowlight through smeared windowpanes in storytelling so quiet that, in Middleton's words, "you can hear a heart-string snap": a modern fairy tale that should last at least a hundred years.