Beedle offers fairy tales for wizards

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2009

“The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” by J.K. Rowling. Children’s High Level Group. 112 pp. $12.99.By Deirdre Parker Smith
Perfect item for a foggy, cold day when the reader is feeling poorly: “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” translated from the ancient runes by Hermione Granger with commentary by Albus Dumbledore.
J.K. Rowling had a hand in this little volume, as well, and brings it out as Harry Potter fans wait with some trepidation for the film, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” delayed by several months.
Surely you’ve finished volume seven in the Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” While a heart-wrenching, tension-filled experience, the book contained references to the tales, a gift from Dumbledore to the clever Miss Granger.
But if you think these are simple throwaways to keep an audience distracted, you would be making a grave mistake.
These tales, comparable, Rowling says, to our “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty,” allow wizarding children to meet “heroes and heroines who can perform magic themselves, and yet find it just as hard to solve their problems as we do,” Rowling writes. “Beedle’s stories have helped generations of Wizarding parents to explain this painful face of life to their young children: that magic causes as much trouble as it cures.”
Rowling, through Dumbledore and his commentary on the tales, says they were highly controversial because Beedle, it seems, was sympathetic to Muggles. And many, starting with a Malfoy ancestor, have threatened harm to those who would even repeat the tales.
For lovers of the Harry Potter world, Dumbledore’s comments are especially illuminating and a nice way to bring back an old friend.
“The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” brings to mind how fairy tales are revised to the point of no longer being the original tale.
Dumbledore tells us that Beatrix Bloxam rewrote some of the tales, which she believed were damaging to children, “because of what she called ‘their unhealthy preoccupation with the most horrid subjects, such as death, disease, bloodshed, wicked magic, unwholesome characters, and bodily efusions and eruptions of the most disgusting kind.’ ”
A similar attitude to this day’s “Walter the Farting Dog,” no doubt, or the marked through parts in my childhood copy of Grimm’s.
“The Fountain of Fair Fortune” shows how working together can bring everyone not just what they desire, but what they need. A charming story with scary bits and a happy ending.
“The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is one of those dark and gory stories guaranteed to send a chill and a warning to selfish people of all ages.
Dumbledore remembers it from his own childhood, and in his comments suggests, “It addresses one of the greatest, and least acknowledged temptations of magic: the quest for invulnerability.”
We get an early look at an Animagus in “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump,” which is not as gruesome as the title may suggest. It uses familiar magic, at least to the Wizarding world, and a real conflict with the Muggle world.
The final tale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers” will ring a bell of recognition for non-magical readers, as the brothers come upon a powerful being ó in this case, death ó who grants each one wish.
There is a greedy brother, a grieving brother and a wise brother, and each gets what he asks for. The moral of the story: Be very careful what you wish for.
The tales are entertaining, to be sure, but Dumbledore’s comments add a wisdom and insight one expects from the great wizard, and Rowling.It’s a thin volume, but a fun one for fans of the Potter world, and worth an afternoon’s escape.