In a Glass Grimmly. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2012.
by Adam Gidwitz
In each of these books, Gidwitz has cleverly linked several fairy tales into a continuous narrative, starring siblings Hansel and Gretel in the Tale and cousins Jack and Jill in Glass. The pairs battle their way through adversity (hunger, homelessness, goblins, dragons) to arrive at (spoiler alert) a suitably happy ending. They go at a rollicking pace, and I read them with relish, albeit with occasional difficulty suspending disbelief.
I love an intrusive narrator and, in fact, all narrative techniques that break the barrier between life and fiction. Embedded texts, stories that circle back on themselves, meta-narratives, books about books (!). The more the better. In this case, while I very much enjoyed the narrator’s voice (comparisons to Lemony Snickett’s narrator are inevitable), I found other self-referential aspects of the telling tried too hard.
The acknowledgements indicate that the author thinks these books are ground-breaking because they re-introduce violence into the stories, and he expresses gratitude to those who assured him that kids can handle it. There is plenty of gore, but there is also a very intrusive narrator who, in bold print, will occasionally interrupt his telling of the stories to suggest that we clear the room of little children. The gore, in other words, is simultaneously highlighted and robbed of its ability to truly frighten with the comedic interruptions. For some reason, the narrator also finds it necessary to claim that these are the real, true versions of the stories, as if we should treat them as historical fact. Retelling and playing with the original tales becomes a kind of assertion of primacy on the basis of truth, an odd stance in books that feature magic, conversations with the devil and confronting a dragon. I found that particular rhetorical technique distracted from my enjoyment of the stories.
In both books, it is the children who really come to the fore as the heroes and heroines of the tales, and it’s a role that is celebrated with much pomp and ceremony. In handing back the spine-chilling gore of the original Grimms’ tales, he is also handing children their right to star in their own adventures, often in spite of adult interference. Each book ends with a fairly heavy-handed moral about the importance of valuing yourself and your own point of view, but somehow the stories do call for that extra bit of didacticism at the end.
I bought these to read to my middle son, who is having a year of Grimm. He’s immersed in the fairy tales, he did a drama production with the Canadian Opera Company about the Grimms’ tales, and we are reading several versions of the classic tales each week and comparing tellings and illustrations. The thing is, I am so back-logged with the books I want to read to him. I just jumped ahead and read these myself to clear some space on the TBR shelf. They will now sit on the kids’ bookshelf and wait for him to read them to himself when he’s ready.