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December 9

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Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

by Ann-Kat

Back Cover of The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump,” and of course, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” But not only are they the equal of fairytales we now know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter.

Three Quick Points About The Tales of Beedle the Bard

  • Point 1: This was a quick read. Coming in at roughly 100 pages, with good spacing, margins, and font size, it could be lazily read in a couple hours or less.
  • Point 2: Ms. Rowling channeled the bard himself. The book is not like reading a Harry Potter book, it’s like reading someone else’s text and stories whereas J.K.R. just interjects a few footnotes. (Totally cute.)
  • Point 3: J.K. Rowling is a skilled illustrator. Illustrations appear throughout the book, and though they have the wispy quality of doodles, they are quite well done and add to the book’s atmosphere.

Full Review of The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Before reading the full review, please note that there may be some spoilers. I tried to keep it vague enough not to spoil the entire story, but be warned. If you’d rather not take any chances, skip the synopsis and go straight to the final thoughts. (Special Note: the synopsis is a bit longer than usual because I’ve decided to summarize each individual story along with Dumbledore’s commentary.)

The Tales of Beedle the Bard Synopsis

This book is a collection of five fairytales, generally for the magical population. Each tale, translated by Hermione, is followed by notes made by Dumbledore. In some cases, JKR even inserts a footnote of her own when she felt it necessary to explain a magical term as:

Professor Dumbledore appears to have been writing for a Wizarding audience.…

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot: After a kind old wizard, who used to fix the ills of his village, passes away, his son is left to pick up where the old wizard left off, but is reluctant. He turns away the humans seeking his help until he’s forced to do the right thing by his father’s magical pot and learns a lesson about helping those less fortunate.

Dumbledore’s notes explains why the story was not well received during its time. It was decidedly Muggle-friendly, which was not a good thing because witches and wizards were being persecuted and hunted. Dumbledore also offers an excerpt from the story re-written from a more “cheerful” perspective by Beatrix Bloxam.

(Grammar Police: On page 11, line 12, the word survived is misspelled. You’d think in a 100 page book, someone might have caught that.)

The Fountain of Fair Fortune: Once a year, the Fountain of Fair Fortune permits one person to bathe in its water and thereby grants the bather good luck forever. When the time came, three witches, Asha, Altheda, and Amatha, and an unwitting knight, dubbed Sir Luckless, find themselves permitted to make the journey to the fountain. Along the way, they’re met with obstacles. Each of the witches overcomes an obstacle and at the fountain the knight also finds his own fortune, but in a most unexpected way.

Dumbledore notes that this story also caused some controversy because of the witch-Muggle element. He also recounts an interesting story of the Hogwart’s Christmas pantomime which went terribly, horribly wrong.

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart: A warlock vows never to let the emotion of love overrule his judgement, so he takes magical measures against it by removing his heart and locking it away in a dungeon. Then he finds himself in the position of wooing the fairest woman, but despite his pretty words she felt the coldness behind them and told him so. The warlock then reclaims the heart he’d hidden away with disastrous results.

Dumbledore notes that this is one of Beedle’s tales which hasn’t received too much criticism and that it was also one of the most gruesome of tales (I must concur) and it should only be shared with older children. He also delves into the core meaning and lesson in the story, as it applies to witches/wizards (but Muggles could pick up a lesson from it, I’m sure).

Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump: When a greedy and intolerant king declares all witches and wizards should be hunted, because he wants to be the only one with magic, an opportunistic con man pounces. When his plan goes awry due to an old witch named Babbitty, he sets out to have her destroyed, much to his own detriment when his plan backfires and she transforms into a rabbit and tricks the king into leaving all the witches and wizards in his kingdom in peace.

Dumbledore uses this story to point out a few limitations of magic (i.e. reviving the dead) and to explain the difference between Animagus (rare magical ability to shift into an animal at will) and transfiguration (magically turning oneself into an animal and which would require another witch or wizard to transform one back into his former self). He then goes on to debate some of the actual facts within the story and whether Beedle used his literary license.

The Tale of the Three Brothers: Three brothers, on approaching a treacherous river, conjure a bridge to cross. Half way over, they meet with Death, who was quite unhappy about being cheated of three lives, but deceived them into thinking he was pleased and offered them each a wish. The first two brothers inadvertently squandered their wishes, which lead to their demise, but the third brother was wise with his wish, knowing that you can never truly escape Death (only evade him), and managed to live a long life.

Dumbledore admits that this tale made a profound impression on him as a child. He discusses the message behind the story (that no one can escape Death and anyone who believes otherwise is foolish) and the legend of a special wand, stone, and cloak that arose from the story.

Final Thoughts On The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The book’s arrival was an event, made so by the special packaging it came in. The box (which I could have sworn I took a picture of before tossing out) had a warning for Muggles not to deliver or open before December 4. Even the packing slip was specially made.

I immediately thought of The Brothers Grimm while reading some of the stories. Except, the stories are told from the magic folks’s points of view as opposed to the human’s (or Muggle’s as the case may be).

Let me start off by saying: people expecting another “Harry Potter book” will be sadly disappointed. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is, as the title implies, a collection of tales created by a bard named Beedle, not a book about Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling.

Once you get past that, the book itself is quite entertaining. Some areas made me laugh out loud, especially a section in the story of Babbitty Rabbitty and some of Dumbledore’s commentary throughout.

Each tale reminded me of some Muggle version of a story, either from the Brothers Grimm or from other cautionary tales (for instance, The Monkey’s Paw). That allowed me to connect on a more personal level with the stories and the lesson they aimed to teach young witches and wizards. It made me feel like they were just like me. But I did find it a little disheartening when in one of the footnotes, it proclaimed there was no hope for humans who wanted to be a witch or wizard.

For me, the most entertaining story was Babbitty Rabbitty and the Cackling Stump, but as with Dumbledore, the one which left the most profound impression was The Three Brothers (and The Warlock’s Hairy Heart was just plain disturbing).

The story of the three brothers was a reminder that we must all meet our maker some day and that to try and circumvent death is futile (and, tongue in cheek, never to trust Death).

One big gripe I did have with the book comes with the inclusion of the illustrations. From the images shown at Amazon, done for each story, it was apparent that they weren’t all rendered for the standard edition of the book (and I’m not talking about the “10 exclusive” images either); it’s as though new illustrations were done specifically for the standard edition. (Not entirely sure if it’s the same deal with the deluxe version.)

Three Brothers Drawings - Differences

But that quibble is minor in the grand scheme and crafting a creative fable is not the easiest thing to do, so she definitely deserves some accolades for the stories themselves, and I truly wish there had been more. But, for $7 (of which the proceeds go to charity) I really can’t complain.

Rating: Worth every penny (?)

Get The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Standard Edition) at Amazon.com

Comments on Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

  1. # Sunday Salon: Unicorns, Wizards, Runaway Mistresses, Reluctant Widows and (Possibly) Possessed Paintings - Today, I Read… wrote on December 10, 2008 at 2:20 am:

    [...] The Tales of Beedle the Bard arrived in the late morning on December 4 and I finished it in the early afternoon on the same day. I find it rather humorous that it’s taking me longer to write the review than it took me to read the book. My problem is trying to trim my review down to the best, most important elements because there’s quite a bit that I wanted to address. Surprising, when you consider I’ve not even read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Update: The review is now online.) [...]

  2. # tanabata wrote on December 10, 2008 at 3:50 am:

    This really was a lot of fun to read. The tales themselves were wonderful and I loved Dumbledore’s notes!

  3. # Jace wrote on December 10, 2008 at 4:09 am:

    Thanks for the detailed review! Fantastic! :-D I’m going to get this for my son – I’m sure he’ll like it. Unlike me, he had finished all 7 Harry Potter books and re-read them twice! :-D

  4. # Ann-Kat wrote on December 10, 2008 at 11:43 am:

    @tanabata: Definitely. These stories were a ton of fun to read and some of Dumbledore’s commentary was hilarious.

    @Jace: Your son sounds like a true Harry Potter fan and there’s no way he wouldn’t like these tales. Plus, they each have a nice lesson to them in some weird, twisted way. LOL

  5. # Under the Christmas Tree … - Ms. Bookish wrote on January 9, 2009 at 5:46 pm:

    [...] Fantasy: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling. I’m definitely looking forward to this one, especially after I read Ann-Kat’s review. [...]

  6. # Jesse Contreras wrote on February 4, 2009 at 6:16 pm:

    This is really a great addition to the Harry Potter franchise. The only disappointment is the miss spelling of words. As stated, there is one miss spelling On page 11, line 12, the word survived is misspelled. (surived) Along with another on page 49, line 3, the word spoke is misspelled (spake). In all honesty, i bought this book for my mom as a belated b-day gift, and than began reading it myself, highly disappointed with the misspelling of some of the words. Shouldn’t we be rein versed and get a new copy of the book with proper grammar and such?

  7. # Ann-Kat wrote on February 5, 2009 at 12:44 am:

    Hi Jesse, thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts. I too was disappointed in the misspelling, but humans are, indeed, fallible creatures. :)

    As for the second example, spake is spelled properly. It’s the past tense of speak (i.e. spoke or spoken), however, it’s used quite rarely (in the US and has been deemed archaic) which is why it seems oddly out of place.

  8. # Jesse Contreras wrote on February 24, 2009 at 8:51 pm:

    I see…
    Guess i should have looked up the word though google…
    Thanx Ann-Kat

    If you know any writers, you should look up the following site and join…

    webook.com

  9. # The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling | Books of Mee wrote on May 18, 2009 at 12:05 am:

    [...] Today I read (full review!) | The Symposium | Serendipity | A Reader’s Respite | Out of the Blue | Bryan’s Book Blog | The Book Lady’s Blog | Wrighty’s Reads | things mean a lot | 5-Squared | Melody’s Reading Corner | Dolce Bellezza | Stella Matutina | Musings of a Bookish Kitty | Fyrefly’s Book Blog | temporaryworlds | Pipe Dreams and Professions | Hello, my name is Alice | Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books | Everyday Reads | where troubles melt like lemon drops | The Bluestocking Guide (negative review) | OF Blog of the Fallen (sort of negative too) | In Spring it is the Dawn (on Collector’s edition) | Falling Stacks | ChainReading | Once upon a bookshelf | Maw Books Blog [...]

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