THE JUNIPER TREE and Other Tales from Grimm by The Brothers Grimm

THE JUNIPER TREE and Other Tales from Grimm

Email this review


Except for the four familiar tales translated by Randall Jarrell, most of the 27 assembled here are out-of-the-way selections and those we thought we knew are stripped of their relatively recently acquired sheeps' clothing -- as in ""The Frog King,"" whose transformation is effected not by the Princess' kiss but by her throwing him against the wall ""as hard as she could"" in a fit of anger. The publishers are issuing the collection on their adult list, presumably to appease those who would protect children from such atrocities as occur in the title story, where a mother decapitates her stepson and then serves him in a stew to his father -- or from the thinly disguised rape with which ""Hans My Hedgehog"" punishes an unwilling bride. As in all true folklore narration, however, there is no dwelling on the cruelty and tortures, and justice is dealt the wrongdoers with impersonal dispatch -- though troth to tell the punishment sometimes seems to exceed the offense: if the stepmother of ""The Juniper Tree"" deserves to be squashed by a millstone and Snow White's stepmother to ""dance in the red hot slippers till she dropped down dead,"" there is less satisfaction in ""Miss Gertrude."" In this uncharacteristic one-paragraph-long shocker an ""obstinate and willful"" child's forbidden visit to a strange old woman ends when the witch ""changed the little girl into a log and threw it into the fire,"" saying ""There now, isn't that nice and bright."" In any case Segal's unfailingly right translation, distinguished by a sparing and masterly employment of the colloquial, handles the humor and violence and triumphs with the original matter-of-factness and telling concision that makes it possible to assimilate the brutal revelations. More disturbing are the obsessive, cross-hatched drawings. Sendak puts the strangeness and emotion back in, reminding us how the participants would actually feel in such charged situations. The staring eyes that signal, variously, dread or repulsion, terrible knowledge or an envious heart, make The Wild Things seem manageable indeed. And Burkert's medieval emblems (in last year's Snow White) seem fussy and gratuitous, her romantic skulls and cobwebs and deadly herbs cozy and evasive, next to the rooted fantasy in which Sendak reveals the significant undercurrents of each story. He follows a fragile, almost effete young boy being dressed by pussycats (""'That feels nice and soft,' said John"") with the massive, peasant-like figure of a thick-necked and stolid Katelizabeth, sitting in her tree. He turns Christian iconography upside-down in the static formality of a bare-chested, fair-haired devil, leaning back in his grandmother's arms with two fingers conventionally extended, and he burlesques it in a mock-solemn,-similarly allusive portrait of the fisherman's wife as pope. He echoes Durer in the cheating doctor's meeting with ""Godfather Death."" He makes ""Fitcher's Feathered Bird"" a sly and knowing ingenue among her predecessors' skulls, he makes the Frog King's princess shrink from him with an expression of barely controlled horror. . . he makes us all stop and see what children know.

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 1973
ISBN: 0374339716
Page count: 332pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux