The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J. K. Rowling

January 6, 2011 at 23:03 (Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction, Highly Rated Books) (, , , )

10/10

The five fables included in The Tales of Beedle the Bard are pleasantly reminiscient of some of Grimm’s gentler stories, and this book deserves some recognition even if only as a vehicle for reintroducing fairy tales to a younger modern audience. As with all of Rowling’s work, they are well-written, witty and charming, and score rather well as stories with which younger readers might be able to identify.

Each of the five tales does, however, build the Harry Potter legendarium (or mythology, or cosmology, or franchise) in a very specific and focused manner that cannot be escaped when reading them. Reaching into the ancient past of her fictional wizardry, Rowling reveals two crucial facts about her creation: firstly, that her witches and wizards have had a decidedly turbulent past in their relations with muggles (much more violent, suspicious and ugly than the relations depicted in the seven books of her series); and secondly, that her circa 1990s witches and wizards (friendly types, without any similitude to the murderous wizards and malevolent witches of yore) are actually one and the same with the blood-drinkers, curse-casters and incubus-snugglers of established legend.

This instantly casts The Tales in a much darker light than the modernised, sanitised Harry Potter series, despite the apparently light subject matter.

Regarding the content itself, Rowling’s decision to have Dumbledore comment on The Tales is a pleasing novelty, but after a short while it becomes a little staid, as he mostly mentions the same things: how terrific he is, how unenlightened the muggle-haters of the past were, and how ahead of his time Beedle was. Dumbledore turns from a stunningly brilliant and complex character into a shabby vehicle for Rowling’s own twentieth-century smugness (something all writers are prone to, now and then).

The Tales themselves are charming, delightful and masterfully written; but the window dressing ends up choking them of innocence and is at best a briefly-amusing gimmick, and at worst a heavy-handed try at social philosophy, or somesuch rot.

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