A Tale Dark & Grimm, p.1Adam Gidwitz
Table of Contents
Hansel and Gretel
The Seven Swallows
Brother and Sister
A Smile as Red as Blood
The Three Golden Hairs
HANSEL AND GRETEL and the Broken Kingdom
HANSEL and GRETEL and the Dragon
HANSEL and GRETEL and Their Parents
DUTTON CHILDREN’S BOOKS•A division of Penguin Young Readers Group
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Adam Gidwitz
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Summary: Follows Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their own story and into eight more tales, encountering such wicked creatures as witches, along with kindly strangers and other helpful folk. Based in part on the Grimms’ fairy tales Faithful Johannes, Hansel and Gretel, The seven ravens, Brother and sister, The robber bridegroom, and The devil and his three golden hairs.
eISBN : 978-1-101-44528-0
[1. Fairy tales. 2. Characters in literature—Fiction. 3. Brothers and sisters—Fiction.]
I. Grimm, Jacob, 1785-1863. II. Grimm, Wilhelm, 1786-1859. III. Title.
Published in the United States by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
To my family. Obviously.
Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.
I know, I know. You don’t believe me. I don’t blame you. A little while ago, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Little girls in red caps skipping around the forest? Awesome? I don’t think so.
But then I started to read them. The real, Grimm ones. Very few little girls in red caps in those.
Well, there’s one. But she gets eaten.
“Okay,” you’re probably saying, “if fairy tales are awesome, why are all the ones I’ve heard so unbelievably, mind-numbingly boring?” You know how it is with stories. Someone tells a story. Then somebody repeats it and it changes. Someone else repeats it, and it changes again. Then someone’s telling it to their kid and taking out all the scary, bloody scenes—in other words, the awesome parts—and the next thing you know the story’s about an adorable little girl in a red cap, skipping through the forest to take cookies to her granny. And you’re so bored you’ve passed out on the floor.
The real Grimm stories are not like that.
Take Hansel and Gretel, for example. Two greedy little children try to eat a witch’s house, so she decides to cook and eat them instead—which is fair, it seems to me. But before she can follow through on her (perfectly reasonable) plan, they lock her in an oven and bake her to death.
Which is pretty cool, you have to admit.
But maybe it’s not awesome.
Except—and here’s the thing—that’s not the real story of Hansel and Gretel.
You see, there is another story in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A story that winds all throughout that moldy, mysterious tome—like a trail of bread crumbs winding through a forest. It appears in tales you may never have heard, like Faithful Johannes and Brother and Sister. And in some that you have—Hansel and Gretel, for instance.
It is the story of two children—a girl named Gretel and a boy named Hansel—traveling through a magical and terrifying world. It is the story of two children striving, and failing, and then not failing. It is the story of two children finding out the meanings of things.
Before I go on, a word of warning: Grimm’s stories—the ones that weren’t changed for little kids—are violent and bloody. And what you’re going to hear now, the one true tale in The Tales of Grimm, is as violent and bloody as you can imagine.
So if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now.
You see, the land of Grimm can be a harrowing place. But it is worth exploring. For, in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.
And, of course, the most blood.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Grimm, an old king lay on his deathbed. He was Hansel and Gretel’s grandfather—but he didn’t know that, for neither Hansel nor Gretel had been born yet.
Now hold on a minute.
I know what you’re thinking.
I am well aware that nobody wants to hear a story that happens before the main characters show up. Stories like that are boring, because they all end exactly the same way. With the main characters showing up.
But don’t worry. This story is like no story you’ve ever heard.
You see, Hansel and Gretel don’t just show up at the end of this story.
They show up.
And then they get their heads cut off.
Just thought you’d like to know.
The old king knew he was soon to pass from this world, and so he called for his oldest and most faithful servant. The servant’s name was Johannes; but he had served the king’s father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father so loyally that all called him Faithful Johannes.
Johannes tottered in on bowed legs, heaving his crooked back step by step and leering with his one good eye. His long nose sniffed at the air. His mouth puckered around two rotten teeth. But, despite his grotesque appearance, when he came within view, the old king smiled and said, “Ah, Johannes!” and drew him near.
The king’s voice was weak as he said, “I am soon to die. But before I go, you must promise me two things. First, promise that you will be as faithful to my young son as you have been to me.”
Without hesitation, Johannes promised.
The king gripped Johannes’s hand. “Promise me.”
Again Johannes promised. Then the wrinkles of worry left the king’s brow, and he closed his eyes and breathed his last.
Soon the prince was crowned as the new king. He was celebrated with parades and toasts and feasts all throughout the kingdom. But, when the revelry finally abated, Johannes sat him down for a talk.
First, Johannes described to him all of the responsibilities of the throne. The young king tried not to fall asleep.
Then he explained that the old king had asked him to show the young king his entire inheritance—the castle, the treasures, all this fine land. At the word treasures the young king’s face lit up. Not that he was greedy. It was just that he found the idea of treasures exciting.
Finally, Johannes tried to explain his own role to the young king. “I have served your father, and your father’s father, and your father’s father’s father before that,” Johannes said. The young king started calculating on his fingers how that was even possible, but before he could get very far, Johannes had moved on. “They call me Faithful Johannes because I have devoted my life to the Kings of Grimm. To helping them. To advising them. To under-standing them.”
“Understanding them?” the young king asked.
“No. Under-standing them. In the ancient sense of the word. Standing beneath them. Supporting them. Bearing their troubles and their pains on my shoulders.”
The young king thought about this. “So you will under-stand me, too?” he asked.
“No matter what?”
“Under any circumstances. That is what being faithful ” means.
“Well, under-stand that I am tired of this, and would like to see the treasures now.” And the young king stood up.
Faithful Johannes shook his head and sighed.
They began by exploring every inch of the castle—the treasure crypts, the towers, and every single room. Every single room, that is, save one. One room remained locked, no matter how many times they passed it.
Well, the young king was no fool. He noticed this. And so he asked, “Why is it, Johannes, that you show me every room in the palace, but never this room?”
Johannes squinted his one good eye and curled up his puckered, two-toothed mouth. Then he said, “Your father asked me not to show you that room, Your Highness. He feared it might cost you your life.”
I’m sorry, I need to stop for a moment. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but when I first heard this part of the story, I thought, “What, is he crazy?”
Maybe you know something about young people, and maybe you don’t. I, having been one myself once upon a time, know a few things about them. One thing I know is that if you don’t want one to do something—for example, go into a room where there’s a portrait of an unbearably beautiful princess—saying “It might cost you your life” is about the worst thing you could possibly say. Because then that’s all that young person will want to do.
I mean, why didn’t Johannes say something else? Like, “It’s a broom closet. Why? You want to see a broom closet?” Or, “It’s a fake door, silly. For decoration.” Or even, “It’s the ladies’ bathroom, Your Majesty. Best not go poking your head in there.”
Any of those would have been perfectly sufficient, as far as I can tell.
But he didn’t say any of those things. If he had, none of the horrible, bloody events to follow would ever have happened.
(Well, in that case, I guess I’m glad he told the truth.)
“Cost me my life?!” the young king proclaimed with a toss of his head. “Nonsense!” He insisted he be let into the room. First he demanded. But Johannes refused. Then he commanded. Still Johannes refused. Then he threw himself on the floor and had a fit, which was very unbecoming for a young man the king’s age. Finally, Faithful Johannes realized there was little he could do. So, wrinkling his old, malformed face into a wince, he unlocked and opened the door.
The king burst into the room. He found himself staring, face-to-face with the most beautiful portrait of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. Her hair looked like it was spun from pure gold thread. Her eyes flashed like the ocean on a sunny day. And yet, around her lips, there was a hint of sadness, of loneliness.
The young king took one look at her and fainted dead away.
Later, in his room, he came to. Johannes hovered over his bed. “Who was that radiant creature?” the king asked.
“That, Your Majesty, is the golden princess,” Johannes answered.
“She’s the most beautiful woman in the world,” the young king said.
And Johannes answered, “Yes, she is.”
“And yet she looked almost sad. Why is that?”
Johannes took a deep breath, and replied, “Because, young king, she is cursed. Every time she has tried to marry, her husband has died; and it is said that a fate worse than death is destined for her children, if ever she should have any. She lives in a black marble palace, topped with a golden roof, all by herself. And, as you can imagine, she is terribly lonely and terribly sad.”
The king sat straight up in his bed and grabbed the front of Faithful Johannes’s tunic. And though he stared into the old man’s face, he saw only the princess’s ocean-bright eyes and her lips ringed with sadness. “I must have her,” he said. “I will marry her. I will save her.”
“You may not survive,” Johannes said.
“I will survive, if you help me. If you are faithful to me, if you under-stand me, you’ll do it.”
Johannes feared for the young king’s life. But he had understood the young king’s father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father before that. What could he say?
Johannes sighed. “I’ll do it.”
It was widely known that in all the golden princess’s days of loneliness, the only thing that gave her any modicum of happiness was gold. So Johannes told the king to gather all of the gold in the kingdom and to command his goldsmiths to craft the most exquisite golden objects that the world had ever seen. Which soon was done.
Then Johannes disguised himself and the king as merchants and loaded a ship with the golden goods. And they set off for the land of the golden princess.
As their ship’s prow split the sea, Johannes tutored the king in his part: “You’re a gold merchant, Your Majesty. The princess has always loved gold, but these days, it is the only thing that gives her any joy. So when I bring her to the ship, charm her not only with your gentle manners and fine looks, but also with the gold. Then, perhaps, she will be yours.”
When they landed, the king readied the ship and tended to his merchant costume, while Johannes, carrying a few golden objects in his bag, made his way to the towering ramparts of black marble where the golden princess lived. He entered the courtyard, and there discovered a serving girl retrieving water from a well with a golden bucket.
“Pretty maid,” he said, smiling his kind but unhandsome smile, “do you think your lady might be interested in such trifling works of gold as these?” And he produced two of the finest, most exquisite golden statuettes that man’s hand has ever made.
The girl was stunned by their beauty. She took them from Johannes and hurried within. Not ten minutes had elapsed before the golden princess herself emerged from the castle, holding the statuettes in her hands. She was as gorgeous as her portrait—more so in fact—and as she greeted Johannes, her golden hair flashed in the light and her ocean-blue eyes danced with pleasure. Still, around her lips there was sadness.
“Tell me, old man,” she said, “are these really for sale? I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, so fine.”
The princess hesitated for a moment—since her last husband-to-be had died, she had not set foot outside the palace. But the allure of the gold was too strong. She threw a shining traveling cloak over her shoulders and followed Johannes to the boat.
The young king, in his disguise as a merchant, greeted her. Her beauty was so stunning, her sadness so apparent and so tender, that he nearly fainted again. But somehow he did not, and she smiled at him and invited him to show her all the treasures he had brought to her fair land.
As soon as they had descended below the deck, Johannes hurried to the captain of the ship, and, in whispered tones, instructed him to cast off from shore and set sail for home immediately.
Now, my young readers, I know just what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Hmmm. Stealing a girl. That’s an interesting way of winning her heart. Allow me to warn you now that, under any other circumstances, stealing a girl is about the worst way of winning her heart you could possibly cook up.
But, because this happened long ago, in a faraway land, it seems to have worked.
For the golden princess came back up to the deck and saw that her land was far away from her. At first she did indeed protest, and fiercely, too, that she’d been carried away by lowborn merchants. But when one of the “merchants” revealed himself to be a king, and revealed that, in addition, he was madly in love with her, and when, besides, Johannes assured her that, if she really wanted to, she could go home, but she couldn’t take the gold if she did, the princess realized that in fact the young king was just the kind of man she would like to marry after all, and decided that she’d give the whole matrimony thing one last shot.
A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz / Fantasy / Young Adult / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes