Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun, short fairytales
Cons: One story could be too dark; very short
The Bottom Line:
Different fairytales
While not true Harry Potter
It's the next best thing

Morality Tales for Wizards Brought to the Muggle World

Okay, I confess.  I didn't remember The Tales of Beedle the Bard coming into play during any of the Harry Potter books.  But that didn't stop me from picking this book up as soon as it became available.  I figured it would be a fun addition to my Harry Potter library.  And I was right.

Beedle the Bard was a storyteller who lived as the middle ages were coming to a close.  As with the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, he wrote short fairytale stories with morals.  His stories are as well known to young wizards and witches as the others' stories are to us.  This book collects five of his stories for us.  The texts of the stories are from the new translation that Hermione Granger just completed.  As an added bonus, each story includes a commentary by Albus Dumbledore with the occasional footnote provided by J. K. Rowling to explain a wizarding term us Muggles might not know.

The book opens with "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot."  In this story, a young wizard who is dead set on not helping any Muggles finds himself followed everywhere by his pot as it begins to show symptoms of the people that the wizard refuses to help.

Next comes "The Fountain of Fair Fortune," which finds three witches and a Muggle trying to over come obstacles to reach a fountain that will give only one of them great luck for the rest of their lives.  The last sentence of this story was my favorite in the entire book.

"The Warlock's Hairy Heart" is by far the darkest of the tales.  It involves a wizard who doesn't want to become weak due to love, so he magically removes his heart.  The consequences are dire and rather bloody.  This one might be best saved until kids are older, although their parents will be the best judge of that.  And, frankly, I don't find it much worse than many of the original fairytales we already know.  Disney has done much to sanitize them.  Reread the originals.  Many of them were dark as well.

The funniest tale also has the funniest title.  "Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Crackling Stump" involves a king who outlaws magic except for himself, a crook who tries to profit from the king's decree, and an old witch who gets caught in the crossfire.

Finally comes "The Tale of the Three Brothers."  And at this point the light went on in my head.  This story will be familiar to those who have read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because it plays an important role in that story.  The story involves three brothers who cheat Death.  He gives them each a gift, an unbeatable wand, a stone to bring back the dead, and an invisibility cloak.  But not all the gifts turn out as planned.

While all the stories are entertaining on their own, the commentaries by Dumbledore add to the fun.  Through them, we get quite an insight into wizarding culture.  We get pieces of an attempt to make the stories more wholesome (personally, I didn't find anything wrong with most of them).  Some more history from Hogwarts comes into play at times.  And the battle between pure blood wizards and half bloods and Muggles is talked about.

With only five stories, this book is short.  It's just over 100 pages, but it feels even sorter because the print and margins are large.  Most readers could probably polish it off in an hour easy.  What makes it even more frustrating is the reference to another of Beedle's tales.  The title alone is intriguing.

While it's not as good as having a new Harry Potter book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a fun glimpse into his world.  Any fan of the series, Muggle or wizard, will be glad to have it in their library.

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