The Tales of Beedle the Bard

This is technically a review, but it’s going to be a very different sort of review.  This is for two reasons, the first is that this book is a very short (I read it in the last hour) collection of wizard fairy tales inspired by the Harry Potter series.  The second reason is that I’m really not that much of an expert on fairy tales, so one of the first things that I’m going to do is link to two posts by Morgan over at The First Gates where he discusses structure in folklore.  Also, there may be some small spoilers for the Harry Potter series in this review, but if you’re interested in this book at all you’ve probably read the series at least once.

Now that that’s set up, lets get on with the semi-standard review.

Book Stats

107 pages

Fantasy

Companion to the Harry Potter series

Thoughts

This book is a collection of 5 tales that originate in the wizard part of the world that we were all introduced to in the Harry Potter books.  The first tale that most people will think of is the one that is told to us in the HP books, The Tale of the Three Brothers, which is used to explain the Deathly Hallows in book 7 of the series.

One of the main things that I enjoyed about reading this is that the stories did not fall into the Disnified “And they all lived happily ever after” branch of fairy tales.  Although I haven’t read many of the original versions of fairy tales (such as those originally collected and written down by the Brother’s Grimm) I know that a good portion of them are quite dark in nature.  In some ways, these stories serve as a warning to people about proper ways to behave, much like the ancient Greek Mythology (which I am more familiar with).

I hope I’m remembering these details correctly, and if I’m wrong I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not looking any of this up now, I’m just writing what I remember from my Greek Mythology class several years back.  One of the main goals of most Greek Myths was to instruct people on how to behave.  One of the best ways to explain this is by discussing the idea of arranged marriages in Ancient Greece.  Arranged marriages were very common in Greece, and while they were accepted as an aspect of life, I’m sure in many cases they were not the most pleasant affairs, especially for the young women who were essentially sold off to their future husbands.  A very common theme in Greek Myth is that trying to fight against an arranged marriage to be with the one you really love will often end in disaster.  I don’t recall the exact myths, but we discussed several examples in class of people both fighting against and submitting to arranged marriages.  Every example of going against the arranged marriage ended poorly, with at least 1 and many times both people dead.

The Hopping Pot

In a similar way, these stories are used to introduce ideas to the wizards of the Harry Potter universe.  Many of the themes are lessons that Dumbledore tries to instill in the students at Hogwarts.  The first tale, The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, deals with the idea that magic should be used to help the muggles rather than to overpower them.  The Fountain of Fair Fortune discusses a very true to life idea that you are responsible for your own fortune, even if you end up attributing it to something else.  The Warlock’s Hairy Heart is by far the darkest tale and is really a way of showing the negative consequences of using different forms of dark magic.

Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump is interesting in that one of the things that it shows is that the mere threat of using magic can greatly alter how muggles interact with the wizards.  It also shows that muggles are both afraid of and awed by magic, simply because they don’t know exactly what it is able to do. The last tale, The Tale of the Three Brothers, shows the folly of chasing after great power as well as the folly of trying to cheat death.

Overall, each of the stories are very short, but manage to serve well as teaching tools in much the same way that our fairy tales do.  Once again, I’ve not studied many of our fairy tales, but I think that in many cases these would fit right in with some of our own fairy tales (many of which do contain magic and supernatural elements).  The commentary on the tales in the book is also very well done, and it really serves to both expand Dumbledore as a character as well as the world of the Harry Potter books as a whole.  It’s a very quick and enjoyable read.

Overall Grade

Quick and adds depth to the world of Harry Potter, if you’re a fan of the series you would do well to check out this book.

8/10

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13 Comments

  1. Great review. I am a fan of the HP series, and you’ve certainly managed to make the book sound like an interesting read. I just…I don’t know. I think so far I haven’t been able to convince myself to spend money on it because it’s such a small book. This review has convinced me to finally add it to my list, so thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    • It was an quick and fun read. I think it would be interesting to go through some of our world’s fairy tales and compare some of their aspects to the stories in this book.

      Reply
      • I’m actually reading the Grimm Fairytales at the moment, so maybe I will find it interesting from that perspective…

  2. Great review Adam, so far I’ve been avoiding this one as I thought it wouldn’t really add to the Harry Potter world and was really more of a gimmick to sell more books. I trust you though and will probably pick it up for a quick easy read.

    Love the new blog theme by the way!

    Reply
    • I can see where it would come across as gimmicky, but I really think she does a good job of cutting out the gimmick part of it by avoiding the “happily ever after” syndrome that seems to inhabit all of the modern day versions of fairy tales that we see.

      Reply
  3. hannahrose42

     /  March 30, 2012

    I’m glad you enjoyed this. I thought the fairy tales were dark and fun, and were good behaviour models, which I know Ron mentions in Deathly Hallows. I have been hoping to read the other HP companions, but somehow I don’t think they will be as gratifying as these fairy tales. I also liked Dumbledore’s comments — I’ve always wanted to know more about his thought processes.

    Reply
    • The analysis of the tales by Dumbledore was quite interesting. Rowling did an excellent job of writing those sections through Dumbledore eyes and the way he would see the tales.

      Reply
  4. Great post Adam. I hadn’t really thought of the cautionary nature of the Greek myths, but I think you’re right. There are parallel moralizing themes in some of the old English ballads – you can find nice renditions by Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Emmy Lou Harris, and Natalie Merchant and others. Along the lines of, “Don’t go out walking down by the river in the evening with a man, or he’ll get you pregnant and then kill you.” For some reason, the man’s name was always “Willy” (I’m not making this up, and I don’t know if it was pun at the time or not). I keep thinking of this one line, “I cried Oh Willy, don’t murder me / I’m not prepared for eternity.” Cannot remember the songs name, but I probably have it on in my iTunes library, since now and again I get in the mood for mournful ballads.

    Thanks – you gave me some ideas for future posts in the process!

    Reply
    • I can’t claim the credit for noticing the cautionary nature of the myths, I have to give all of the credit to my Greek Myth teacher (who is easily one of the greatest teachers that I’ve ever had).

      It’s kind of odd to think about the transition that children’s entertainment has made over the years. From highly cautionary tales such as those in Greek Myth to songs that are about God-awful things (we all know that the nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie is about The Black Plague right?) to the ultra sensitive super happy endings that occur in nearly all of children’s entertainment today. It’s even really expanded past just being a part of children’s literature. The majority of movies really seem to have a happy ending, no matter how dire the circumstances get to be throughout the course of the movie. It’s gotten to the point where it really is a very welcome surprise to find a movie or book that doesn’t have the super happy ending.

      Glad to hear that I inspired ideas for some new posts, I look forward to reading them in the future.

      Reply
  5. Doh! It’s a famous 19th c. American folksong, “Banks of the Ohio,” covered by Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Olivia Newton John, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, and others. Here’s one version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uL4SVdN9Pw

    Reply
  6. OK, I *finally* remembered the genre of cautionary ballads I had been thinking of. This showed the terrible fate that awaits women who commit adultery (i.e., “Those are the hills of Hell my love, where you and I must go). The songs are variously called, “The Demon Lover,” and “The House Carpenter.” Here is my favorite version, by Natalie Merchant, from her 2003 album, “The House Carpenter’s Daughter.” Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y3dbVACG6M

    Reply
    • I listened to both songs you linked to, but I have to confess I was getting some things ready for tomorrow (I’m leaving in the morning for a bowling tournament) and couldn’t devote my full attention to the songs. I’ll have to check them out when I get back Sunday evening. Thanks for posting them.

      Reply
  1. March 2012 Month in Review « Reviews and Ramblings

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