Do you remember telling scary stories around the campfire or at sleepover parties? The best scary stories were always funny, too. I know I’ve talked about that thin line between scary and funny in the past, but there’s something about that moment when you can release all the terrifying tension with laughter that creates a great sense of relief. I think that’s the secret to the success of A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.
He has a way of saying, “Here comes the best part,” but with a sense of irony. At the end of the “Brother and Sister” section, he says, “I will tell you, as I always tell myself, that things will get better. Much, much better. I promise. Just not quite yet.” He tantalizes and taunts in the best possible way. It’s as if he’s saying, “Cover your eyes for this part,” knowing you will peer through your fingertips.
The other aspect of his writing that’s surprising (aside from the here-comes-the-scary-part-close-your-eyes aspect, which makes you laugh instead of tremble), at least for me, was the way he threaded together the well-known tales to make something completely new. With a slight adjustment, he makes “Brother and Sister” into an environmental story: the punishment comes to Hansel because he’s taking more from Lebenwald, the Wood of Life, than he needs. In a retelling of “Robber Bridegroom” (called “A Smile as Red as Blood”), Gretel is not all innocence: she ventures where her kind guardian warns her not to go. But each of the siblings learns something from those experiences that they apply in a later chapter of the book.
Even if the young person (or people) in your life is the most dedicated of Brothers Grimm fans, he or she cannot help but be impressed by how Adam Gidwitz reinvents their stories here. This is the ideal book for these long winter nights… Meh heh heh heh (think Vincent Price laughter…).