by J. K. Rowling



108pp/7.99/December 2008

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Cover by J.K. Rowling

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In addition to the seven Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling has published a couple of ancilliary volumes, including the short collection The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Referred to originally in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a collection of wizard folk tales, in 2008, Rowling brought a version of it to life containing five short fairy tales in a volume published to support the charity Lumos.

The actual published book, which one presumes is shorter than the one available to the students at Hogwarts, claims to be a new translation edited by Hermione Granger with notes by Albus Dumbledore. In addition to the fictional editor and notationer, Rowling, herself, is present in the book providing some footnotes as well as an introduction. From a structural point of view, Rowling would have been better off absenting herself from the book entirely, allowing the contributions credited to her to be claimed by Hermione Granger instead. As it is Granger's name appears as the tales' translator, but she has no other presence in the book.

The first story, "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," seems designed to support Rowling's contention that fairy tales in the wizarding world use magic in a more positive manner than traditional fairy tales, although Dumbledore's subsequent notes on the story clearly indicate that different wizards take different lessons from the story, making the moral mutable depending on what the reader brings to it, much like all literature. Dumbledore's notes also introduce the Malfoy family to the collection, showing that the family has traits carried forward through multiple generations.

"The Fountain of Fair Fortune" is the story of three witches and a knight on a quest to reach a magical fountain that will grant only one of them their wish. Although the witches agreed that only one would be able to have her wish granted, the knight, Sir Luckless, comes along accidentally. Rather than throwing a wrench into the plans, his presence meshes perfectly with the witches and there is little conflict in this story. As with most of the tales, the most interesting part if the way Dumbledore's notes use the tale to flesh out the broader world of Harry Potter, in this case looking at Dumbledore's contentious history with Lucius Malfoy.

Rowling's tale of selfishness is "The Warlock's Hairy Heart," about a wizard who has no desire to give or receive love, but merely to acquire power. It is the most violent of the stories included, which Dumbledore's notes refer to, stating that many parents gloss over the tale when reading the stories to their children. Of course, its gruesomeness is similar to the original endings of many classic fairy tales, which have been altered for younger sensibilities so kids aren't exposed to beheadings, mangled feet, and rape. Unlike the most gruesome of traditional fairy tales, which are altered, Dumbledore notes that "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" has shown the least alteration since originally written.

Perhaps the most humorous of the stories is "Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump," which is a tale of vengeance. When the king of an unnamed country (aren't they all unnamed in fairy tales) outlaws wizards but looks for one to teach him magic, he winds up with a charlatan. A local witch finds herself blackmailed by the charlatan when he discovers her, but she has a last laugh. Dumbledore's notes place the tale in an historical and magical context as an introduction to Rowling's animages, who appear throughout the main series as characters such as Minerva McGonagall, Peter Pettigrew, or Rita Skeeter.

The final fairy tale in the book, "The Tale of the Three Brothers," is the one most referred to in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where it helps drive Potter's quest for the seven horcruxes. The title of the story gives a good indication of what the story is about, but the key feature of the tale, as with most of the stories related, comes in Dumbledore's notes following the tale. Because most readers will have already been familiar with the tale, as well as its subsequent history from reading the novel, it is clear that Dumbledore is not above playing fast and loose with the truth in his notes.

More than just diverting short stories, Dumbledore's annotations provide a depth and background to the world of Harry Potter, placing stories into a semblence of historical context and discussing how different types of wizards react to the tales. These notes show that Rowling has an understanding for the way fairy tales are woven into the real world and the tales themselves demonstrate a knowledge of fairy tales that goes back to the original stories collected and written by the Grimms, Perault, Andersen, and others.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump
The Fountain of Fair Fortune The Tale of the Three Brothers
The Warlock's Hairy Heart

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