The bicentenary of the first publication of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) in 1812 has inevitably generated a slew of new books, some making a genuine contribution to the Grimms’ legacy, some just lazily cashing in. This new edition of Mervyn Peake’s Grimm stands somewhere between these poles. There is every reason to reprint Peake’s lively and atmospheric illustrations, and no reason at all to reprint the stilted and archaic text they accompany.
The book was first published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1946, and the text they used appears to have been cobbled together from existing sources. Some stories come from Marian Edwardes’ 1912 translation, others from Margaret Hunt’s edition of 1884, leading to a fatal mishmash of more relaxed colloquial styles and arch high-Victoriana. What child, or adult, today wants to encounter a sentence such as ‘Thou hast certainly let a hair fall into the soup, and if thou hast, thou shalt be beaten for it’ in a fairytale? Buyers also need to be aware that this book contains two anti-semitic tales: the cruel ‘The Jew Among Thorns’, and ‘The Good Bargain’, which contains the line ‘what a Jew says is always false—no true word ever comes out of his mouth!’ alongside more hasts and cansts and thous. Peake did not illustrate either of these stories, making the decision to reprint them even more dubious.
The illustrations are mainly ink drawings with Peake’s characteristic stuttering line, all dots and dashes like visual morse code. There are also four colour plates reproduced at the beginning of the volume.