Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

Unless you are living under a rock… in a cave… in Siberia… you are familiar to some degree with the world of Harry Potter, and this companion piece to the series certainly does not disappoint. With The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the famed JK Rowling expands on the rich culture of the Wizarding World with the fairy tales told to our beloved characters as young witches and wizards, while Muggle (non-magical) children were told “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of five short stories. The first is “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” a morality tale of a wicked wizard who learns respect for the Muggle world. The second is “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” an enchanting tale about a group of witches and a knight who journey to a magic fountain to cure their misfortunes. “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” delves into the dark side of magic and the destructive lust for power over human weakness. “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump” comically spoofs the Muggle world’s fears and attitudes towards witchcraft and wizardry, while “The Tale of Three Brothers” delves into humanity’s relationship with death and their failed attempts at cheating it.

Adding background and history to these stories is Professor Albus Dumbledore’s enlightening and extensive commentary, which provides a wizard’s perspective on the social relevance of these tales. For example, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” has been criticized by witches and wizards who believe in blood purity, for it contains a romantic element between a witch and a Muggle. “Babbitty Rabbitty” was among the first works of fiction in the Wizarding World to portray an Animagus, a witch or wizard (in this case, a witch) that can transform to an animal at will. Not only are these tales entertaining; they also add depth to the social dynamics of Rowling’s magical world, and provide social commentary—in metaphorical form—on our own Muggle world.

One of the best things about these enchanting tales is that Rowling doesn’t hold back on gruesome content, and not all of these stories end happily. The result is that these stories resemble the grittier old-school versions of fairy tales that have been softened by Disney. For example, Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the wolf, the Little Mermaid died with her love unrequited and Rapunzel’s lover was blinded by the evil witch. Rowling clearly does not underestimate children and their ability to handle some level of morbidity.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is definitely a must-read for any Harry Potter fan. It’s a delightfully fun book that provides a satisfying reunion between the reader and the Wizarding World, and a good light summer read.

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