Read: December 2008
In 'The Wizard and the Hopping Pot' we encounter a young wizard who has to learn the hard way to live alongside muggles; in 'The Fountain of Fair Fortune' we get a tale remarkably similar to our own conception of the tree of everlasting life, and learn that all that we need for a happy and successful life lies within us already; in 'The Warlock's Hairy Heart' we are taught a cautionary tale in the destructive nature of the dark arts, and see once more Dumbledore's belief in love as the most powerful force in the world; in 'Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump' we meet a washerwoman witch who teaches us something of the troubling history of magic and the corrupt nature of power hungry rulers; and finally, in the now famous 'Tale of the Three Brothers' we are treated to the complete version of the tale which lies at the heart of The Deathly Hallows, the story of the three brothers who thought they could overcome death.
Each of these stories is augmented with additional commentary and insight provided by Professor Dumbledore which provides historical depth and cultural context to the tales. In 'The Tale of the Three Brothers' there is even the hint that the dominant explanation he provided in Deathly Hallows was a rouse to defeat Voldemorte. Or else he was wary that the notes he wrote in his copy of Tales of Beedle the Bard, might provide a clue to Voldemorte's quest for total power. I suspect the latter.
These questions are interesting food for thought, but do not dramatically transform the book. My personal favourite of the stories is probably ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers' but they are all good little moral fables. Rowling's illustrations are surprisingly good, and add a feel of natural elegance to the page. However, the fact that the notes are provided by JKR and not the actual translator, Hermione Granger, offers an annoying intrusion and jars the boundary between author and imagined world.
But what I take most of all from this slim collection of stories is further bafflement as to the ending to the Deathly Hallows. Throughout the Harry Potter series, Rowling showed herself to be dead against the sugar-coating of stories, and again here she lambastes the efforts of one Beatrix Bloxam, who attempted to rewrite these tales so they would provide wholesome enjoyment which would protect the 'precious flower’ of children’s innocence from tales of horror and death. So why oh why did she feel the need to tack on that pathetic and sweet epilogue to the end of Deathly Hallows? It is perhaps not the most fundamental question that must be asked here, but it still rankles with me.
But these thoughts are all largely by the by. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a nice quick addition to the Harry Potter world, and an enjoyable evenings reading. It reminds one of the great enjoyment the series has provided and in its own inimitable way poses as many questions as it answers. And with £1.61 from each book sold going to charity, it is nice when literature can give something back to the world.
6.5 out of 10