Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Review: 'Through the Water Curtain', edited by Cornelia Funke

Aaah fairy tales! I think I have spoken about my love of fairy tales countless of times on this blog, but it remains true. I adore them and they were the first step in my lifelong journey through literature. They are the first step for many children and in that way they are something we all share. Through the Water Curtain sees Cornelia Funke bring together a range of different fairy tales. Thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/9/2019
Publisher: Pushkin Press

A delightful, diverse selection of fairy tales from around the world by one of our most beloved children's writers.
International bestselling children's author Cornelia Funke has long been inspired and fascinated by fairy tales. This wonderful anthology is Funke's personal selection of fairy tales from all around the world - not just from her native Germany but from Russia, Japan and the Native American tradition. It's the perfect Christmas gift for any young reader wishing to discover the wider world of fairy tales.
This wonderful selection of 13 tales includes:
  •  The Tale of the Firebird (Russia)  •  The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japan)  •  The Frog Princess (Ukraine)  •  The Six Swans (Germany)  •  The Girl Who Gave a Knight a Kiss out of Necessity (Sweden)  •  Kotura, Lord of the Winds (Siberia)
In the introduction to this collection, Cornelia Funke describes how her love affair with fairy tales has always been a double-edged sword. On the one hand they are not very deep tales. The characters are often very flat and many of the tales reinforce stereotypes we now consider, at the very least, not great. On the other hand, they are incredibly imaginative and have some stunning imagery. I myself read the unedited tales Grimms' tales, full of murder, death, incest and violence, as well as the deeply sad but beautiful tales by H.C. Andersen. There are some truths children learn through fairy tales, that they later as adults forget, or smooth away. There are dragons, but dragons can be defeated. You may be abandoned in a wood, but if you're smart you'll find a way out. There can be a high price to pay for even the smallest transgression. In Through the Water Curtain, Funke collects 13 tales she thinks veer away ever so slightly from the usual, slightly sanctimonious tone of many fairy tales, showing just why so many of us, herself included, have been inspired by them.

Many of the tales in this collection were new to me. 'The Boy Who Drew Cats' is a wonderful little tale that shows that survival doesn't just depend on strength, but also on passion and art and, just sometimes, listening to the advice of others. 'The Girl Who Gave a Knight a Kiss out of Necessity' is hilarious, and a great tale to put some in their place. 'Through the Water Curtain', the tale after which the collection is named, is also fascinating, as it really plays with the readers' expectations. 'The Areca Tree' is a heart-breaking story about brotherly and matrimonial love, whose power lasts lifetimes. One of my favourites was 'The Maid of the Copper Mountains' from the mine workers in Russia's Ural mountains. It was very different from what I am used to in fairy tales and had some great images. It is also a tale that is very clearly shaped by its surroundings and those who shared it. 
'The Six Swans' is one of Funke's favourite fairy tales and I completely agree with her. Although the iteration in this collection differs slightly from the one I knew, it is still full of stunning imagery, set pieces and characters. A story of sisterly love, it shows the power of perseverance and belief. Some stories didn't quite hit the spot the way the ones above did. For example, 'The Story of the One Who Set Out to Study Fear' felt like the odd one out and the tone seemed somehow off. 

Each tale is followed by a short paragraph from Funke, explaining why she chose this tale and how it has inspired her. I really enjoyed seeing her takes on the stories, but wasn't a major fan of how she continually tied it back to her own, current series of books. Perhaps it's because I didn't majorly enjoy its first installment myself, but I could have done without those references. I couldn't entirely tell from the introduction whether Funke herself had re-written these tales or whether they were taken word for word from other sources. However, they're clearly aimed at children, which means that readers with a more advanced taste might be turned off by that. Overall, however, this is a stunning addition to any fairy tale shelf!

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Through the Water Curtain is a lovely collection of fairy tales that are slightly unusual and feature unusual heroes and heroines. It's a great introduction to the wonders of fairy tales for younger readers.

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