Sunday, January 04, 2009

Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

"The Tales of Beedle the Bard," by J.K. Rowling
9/10, a short, enjoyable collection of fairy tales from the Harry Potter universe

Upon finishing the "Harry Potter" series, J.K. Rowling declared there would be no more stories in that universe, at least not for a while. With good reason: although her love for the world shines through in her stories, it must be exhausting to have so much attention focused on it. Certainly she need never work again.

Some of the stories must have been kicking around in her head, though. This small collection of fairy tales includes the tale of the three brothers referenced in "Deathly Hallows," as well as a few others, and commentary on the tales by Albus Dumbledore. Viewed as a part of the Potter-verse, they are all attuned to the theme that magic by itself does not solve problems; rather, it's the good qualities in people that matter the most. One wishes Voldemort had paid more attention to these stories.

On their own, they differ from Andersen's or Grimm's fairy tales in precisely that respect. While good qualities in people usually win out in fairy tales, a lot is also due to magic and charms. It's a challenge for Rowling to build fantasy into a world that is already fantasy, and mostly she accomplishes this by avoiding the issue. The stories feel more like tall tales than fairy tales--slight exaggerations of the real world.

That's not meant to be a criticism. The stories are entertaining, and Dumbledore's commentary is fun because it relates the stories to the Potter world, though also to ours. If you're a Harry Potter fan, chances are you already have this book. If not, they probably won't interest you. But it's nice to revisit the world again, and it's nice to read Rowling's writing again. The theme of good human qualities shining through is no less appealing for being closer to the surface here, and her imagination is as fun as always.

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