Blog Tour: Interview with Adam Gidwitz

I am so, so happy to be hosting today's stop on the blog tour for Adam Gidwitz and his book A Tale Dark and Grimm. I am a massive fan of fairy tales and will be writing my dissertation about them next year so I couldn't wait to pick this author's brain!

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Describe your book in 5 words.
I think I’d describe it as “A Tale Dark and Grimm.” Sorry, was that cheeky?

With a host of topics available to write about, what made you decide to write about fairy tales?It was like this. I was asked to be the substitute librarian for a day at the school where I teach, and to read a story to some seven year olds. Lovely! I was allowed to read any story I chose. So I looked around my house, and found a book called GRIMM'S TALES FOR YOUNG AND OLD. I knew fairy tales—at least, I thought I did—and I figured they’d be perfect for the little ones. So I opened up the book to a story called Faithful Johannes. I began to read. In the story, two kids get their heads cut off....
by their parents.

I stopped.

I closed the book.

I thought, "Can I read this to seven year olds? Will I get fired?"

And then I thought, "Let's find out!"

So I brought the book in and read it to the kids, making jokes as I went and trying to make things not too terrifying. Afterwards, half of them were completely traumatized, and the other half asked me to make the story into a book.

So I did.

What kind of research did you need to do for A Tale Dark and Grimm?
I read my big old edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (translated by Ralph Manheim, for all you scholars out there, though with frequent references to the translations and essays of Jack Zipes). In reading that old, ratty tome, I found stories I had never heard of before—The Robber Bridegroom, The Seven Ravens, Brother and Sister—and devoured them. They were shocking. Gory and hilarious and bordering on surreal. I was in love.

Retellings of fairy tales are very popular right now with books coming from the likes of Jackson Pearce and Alex Flinn. Why do you think these are such a big hit?
Perhaps it’s because a generation of us raised on Disney’s versions of the fairy tales finally went back and read the real ones, and discovered all that we’d been missing. Also, publishers are copy-cats; they’ll reject a hundred manuscripts on fairy tales. Then, when one gets published and sells well, they’ll start accepting every manuscript based on fairy tales that crosses their desk. At least, I imagine that some are like that. My editor, actually, has a degree in fairy tales and folk lore, and says she was waiting for the right one. Eventually she just gave up waiting and published mine. (That was a joke. I think.)

What was it about Grimm’s fairy tales that attracted you to them?
They’re so strange and scary! Did you know that Rumpelstiltskin didn’t stomp his foot and shatter into a thousand pieces? I always thought he did! But then I actually read the original, Grimm version of the story, and it turns out he stomped his right foot so hard that he buried it three feet in the ground. Then he grabbed his left foot and yanked up so hard that he tore himself in half. In half. What kind of psycho would write that? What kind of genius would think of it? How can you not want to read stories like that????

Over time, fairy tales have been changed dramatically from being quite scary to things little children dream of. Which version do you prefer and why?
I’m going to give you one guess which version I prefer.

There are two reasons why. First, because a child being decapitated by his step-mother, then turning into a bird, and then dropping a millstone on her head is awesome.

Second, because the strange violence of fairy tales speaks to our psychic needs much more than any cutesie, gussied up version ever could. When we read about Hansel and Gretel getting abandoned by their parents, we feel every time we felt abandonment. If they’re just lost, or if the father wasn’t really complicit, the emotional resonance dies. These stories begin Once Upon a Time for a reason—to let children know that the stories are about them, and that it will all be okay in the end; in the story, and in their lives. If nothing horrible happens in the story, what strength can a child draw from them?

Those sweet fairy tales are fine for three and four year olds. But why do seven and eight year olds believe that fairy tales are for little kids? Because the dreck we peddle to them is for little kids.

What is your fairy tale of all time and why?
The Juniper Tree. That’s the one where the boy turns into a bird and drops the millstone on his step-mother’s head. Besides being incredible and insane and bloody, it has the creepiest song. The song goes like this:

My mother, she killed me
My father, he ate me
My sister, Marleenken, buried my bones ‘neath the juniper tree
Kewitt! Kewitt!
What a beautiful bird am I!

Freaky, right? Don’t you want to go read that story?

As I say in my book: once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.

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A Tale Dark and Grimm is out now and published by Anderson Press!!

3 comments:

  1. Some original fairy tales are VERY grim. Going to see about tracking down Adam's book.
    Have you read Seren Books' collection of retold folk tales Sing Sorrow Sorrow? Some very disturbing tales in there. http://ourbookreviewsonline.blogspot.com/2011/01/sing-sorrow-sorrow.html - some very strange folk tales

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  2. I take it you weren't sacked then? Lol. I've never read any of Grimms fairytales. That is so bad. Maybe I should get a copy of this book to make up for it :)

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  3. FAB interview! Love the inspiration for the story, I think kids are attracted to grim and gory, aren't they? Or is that just my two boys? (Also the part where he rips *himself* in half? Made me burst out laughing. I definitely want to read that story.)

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