There is no easy way to define the experience of seeing, holding, or reading J.K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard, so let's just start with one word: "Whoa." The very fact of its existence (an artifact pulled straight out of a novel) is magical, not to mention the facts that only seven copies exist in all the world and each of the never-before-told tales is handwritten and illustrated by J.K. Rowling herself (and it's quite clear from the first few pages that she has some skill as an artist). Rowling's handwriting is like the familiar scrawl of a favorite aunt--it's not hard to read, but it does require attention--allowing you to take it slow and savor the mystery of each next word.
So how do you review one of the most remarkable tomes you've ever had the pleasure of opening? You just turn each page and allow yourself to be swept away by each story. You soak up the simple tales that read like Aesop's fables and echo the themes of the series; you follow every dip and curve of Rowling's handwriting and revel in every detail that makes the book unique--a slight darkening of a letter here, a place where the writing nearly runs off the page there. You take all that and you try and bring it to life, knowing that you will never be able to do it justice. With that, let's dig in and begin at the beginning, shall we? --Daphne Durham
1. "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]
As in her Harry Potter series, garnishing the top of the first page of the first fairy tale, "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," is a drawing--in this case, a round pot sitting atop a surprisingly well-drawn foot (with five toes, in case you were wondering, and we know some of you were). This tale begins merrily enough, with a "kindly old wizard" whom we meet only briefly, but who reminds us so much of our dear Dumbledore that we must pause and take a breath.
This "well-beloved man" uses his magic primarily for the benefit of his neighbors, creating potions and antidotes for them in what he calls his "lucky cooking pot." Much too soon after we meet this kind and generous man, he dies (after living to a "goodly age") and leaves everything to his only son. Unfortunately, the son is nothing like his father (and entirely too much like a Malfoy). Upon his father's death, he discovers the pot, and in it (quite mysteriously) a single slipper and a note from his father that reads, "In the fond hope, my son, that you will never need this." As in most fairy tales, this is the moment when things start to go wrong....
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2. "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]
Featured at the top of what may be one of our favorite fairy tales ever is a picture of a sparkling, flowing fountain. Now that we're thirty pages into the book, it has become clear that Rowling enjoys (and is quite good at) drawing stars and sparkles. The beginning and ending of almost every tale appears sprinkled with pixie dust (à la Peter Pan--fans know that Rowling's pixies are less likely to leave such a pretty trail). This first page of the story also features a small rose bush below the text. It is quite lovely, and as anyone who has tried to draw a rose knows, not that easy to pull off--a fact that makes it less likely that Rowling did it to cover up a mistake (the way some of us might). It is a gorgeous way to start, and it gives "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" a lot to live up to. Perhaps this is why the story begins so grandly and with such a perfectly lush and mysterious fairy tale setting: an enchanted and enclosed garden that is protected by "strong magic." Once a year, an "unfortunate" is allowed the opportunity to find their way to the Fountain, to bathe in the water, and win "fair fortune forever more." Ahhhh, such is the stuff of Harry Potter fans' dreams. In fact, this tale stands out as a favorite partly because it follows the quest arc that fans fell in love with in her novels—the kind we still crave.
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3. "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]
Beware dear readers: Rowling channels the Brothers Grimm for her third and darkest fairy tale. In "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" there is little laughter and no quest, only a journey into the shadowy depths of one warlock's soul. There is no evidence of pixie dust on this first horrible page, instead we see a drawing of a heart covered in coarse hair and dripping blood (again, it's really not easy to draw an actual heart, with valves and everything, but Rowling gets it just right--gross hair and all). Beneath the text is an old-fashioned key with three loops at the top, lying in a pool of blood, making it quite clear that we are in for a different tale than the others. Don't say we didn't warn you....
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4. "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]
A large tree stump (with twenty growth rings—we counted) squats atop Rowling's fourth and longest fairy tale. Five tentacle-like roots spread from the base with grass and dandelion clocks sprouting out from beneath them. At the center of the base of the stump is a dark crack, with two white circles that look like tiny eyes peering out at the reader. Under the text is a small narrow paw print (with four toes). Not as horrific as the bloody, hairy heart of the last story (and this time we do see bright pixie dust on the facing page), but we don’t entirely like the looks of that stump...
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5. "The Tale of the Three Brothers" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]
If, like us, you raced through your first reading of "The Tale of the Three Brothers" on your way to the finale of all finales, then you missed quite a tale (one that we think can stand among the best of Aesop). Lucky for you, you can open your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to Chapter Twenty-One and read it any time you like. If you have not already read the final book of Rowling's series (and what a feast you have ahead of you), you might not want read this review…yet. Give yourself a chance to read the tale in context first. You won’t be disappointed.
A trio of toothy skulls stare out at the reader at the top of the last of the five tales (oh how we wish there were dozens more). The skull in the middle has a symbol carved into its forehead--a straight vertical line in a circle, enclosed by a triangle. Underneath the text is a pile of fabric, upon which lies a wand (spouting a swirling stream of sparkles), and what looks like a small stone.
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Read all reviews of the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard