Off The Beaten Path

I was a weird kid. At least that’s what everyone told me. But my grandmother didn’t help my reputation any. She always bought me books that were sort of ‘left of center’. A lot of my favorites were compilations of myths, folklore and fairy tales. One of my particular favorites was a little book called ‘The Juniper Tree’.

The book consists of 27 different short stories, translated directly from original Grimm tales. Most of the stories are ‘raw’ versions of the homogenized fairy tales people are familiar with today. (Disney has done a serious disservice to real fairy tales, which are intentionally much more frightening and gruesome.) A nice thing to note with this book is that the illustrations were done by Maurice Sendak, the same author/illustrator who created ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.

I have a great story where I was reading the book in grade school one really hot day (it was an old Catholic school with no AC), and the class was restless, so I suggested to the teacher that she read a story from my book. She started to read the title tale ‘The Juniper Tree‘, but got so far as a particularly gruesome part and slammed the book shut. It was pretty easy to deduce what came next in the story, and suddenly I was a bit of a celebrity for reading something so ‘cool’. It was the closest I had ever come to being ‘popular’ that whole year and I was heady with the attention. It was a nice experience, even if my teacher always had a weird eye on me whenever I was reading ever since then.

Though I do like the story ‘The Juniper Tree’ (dying mothers, murdering step-mothers, cannibalism, what’s not to like?), my favorite story is ‘Hans My Hedgehog‘. Hans is born half man, half hedgehog, and then runs around morally judging kings who get lost in his forest and try to pull a fast one over on him because he’s different. I was always particularly fond of this story because, in the end, someone finally treats Hans with dignity. And, in my animation days, I always thought it would have been fun to animate this one.

This book has always held a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. I’ve collected other Grimm’s books over the years, but none of the translations were ever as good as this one. If you’re into reading things that are just a little ‘off the beaten path’, I recommend it highly.

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