Oh boy- I had mixed feelings about this one. I mean, I didn’t hate it, so there’s that. I think this just exemplified why I rarely read Rowling’s newer, spinoff stuff. Because while there were some things I did like, they were few and far between.
I’ll admit, I only have myself to blame for picking it up in the first place, because I know that I’m unlikely to enjoy an unnecessary expansion of the Potterverse. BUT it’s always the setup and the fact it’s part of the wizarding world that draws me to it in the first place- which is a bit of a catch 22. In fact, the setup and references to Hermione and Dumby were some of the things I actually liked.
The thing is though, the only story I genuinely enjoyed was The Tale of the Three Brothers– possibly because it’s a carbon copy of the medieval tale and because it already worked so well in Deathly Hallows. But other than that, none of the tales lit a spark under my cauldron. The Wizard and the Hopping Pot felt juvenile and obvious. I could also hardly be disarmed by how overly moralistic and facile The Fountain of Fair Fortune was. Babbity Rabbit was alright, but in some ways it felt like a bad version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.
I particularly hated The Warlock’s Hairy Heart– it was like all the worst bits of the Voldemort backstory (the ones I had such huge issues with) were distilled into a disappointing potion worthy of Neville Longbottom. The focus on the villain that can’t love has always left a bitter taste in my mouth- and this was no exception. I wish Rowling hadn’t pinned her sails to that mast- especially since it ended up being a not-so-great inversion of the Beauty and the Beast story. Instead of showing that there’s a way back for someone who is lacking a heart, this story suggests there’s *no redemption*- which I just can’t get behind.
Now I’m all for retellings, even ones like Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber collection that subvert or challenge the originals. However, I kind of object to the angle that Rowling went with here. In her introduction, it’s described how these tales would be used as a criticism of all passive female characters and we’re told that any inactive or bad character will be punished. I have problems with that on two counts:
1) I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to damn all passivity and suggest that any character in a situation where they’re victimised is necessarily doing something wrong. Take Cinderella for instance- too often she’s condemned for just accepting her lot- but as a great youtube video pointed out, couldn’t her attempts to go to the ball be seen as her seeking agency from her abusive family? This view of female heroines being too passive can often be reductive and unproductive when exploring some of the more complex themes in fairy tales. Isn’t there a reason we’re still drawn to these stories? I’m reluctant to view see everyone who enjoys fairy tales as being in some sort of mini-masochistic trance. Fairy tales are a bit more complicated than they’re often given credit for– which leads me onto…
2) Being *told* how to interpret the tales takes the sting out of them– there’s no room to puzzle out the meaning, it’s just there. Which is why I felt the tales didn’t come across as nearly as complex as they were perhaps intended to be. Especially since most of them had the same “peace and love” message (not a bad message, but actual fables are usually a) a bit deeper and b) have some more diverse themes). For me, this ultimately failed as a critique of fairy tales- they were just far too simplistic and didn’t offer nearly as much depth.
And yes, I recognise that these are for children– yet as a child, I don’t imagine I’d have been especially interested in a mostly bland collection that’s somewhat patronising in its obvious messaging. Especially when it made out like some of them would be too dark for children in the notes- which was blatantly not true on the most part.
The thing I should cut it slack for is that it was for charity- which is why I almost feel bad for tearing it apart. Almost. Unfortunately it being for a worthy cause doesn’t mean it was actually a good collection.
Rating: 3/5 bananas
Phew- lots of mini rants there! So have you read these? Have you planned to? Let me know in the comments!