Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (2008): One of the prime selling points of Rowling's Harry Potter series was always its user-friendliness, a trait that extended to the way in which magic operated in Rowling's fictional world. A teenaged wizard could go toe-to-toe with a middle-aged master of magic and hold his or her own, or even prevail, because the magicking exams in the Potterverse were not known for their rigor.
Not only could a kid dream of being a wizard, but of being a really powerful wizard pretty much right out of the gate. And magic was, of course, in-born -- Muggles couldn't become wizards because magic is genetic (I assume). That any sane Muggle government in a realistic milieu would devote a lot of time and energy to figuring out ways tom exterminate the dangerous minority of magic-users among them pretty much goes without saying. But the Potter series was about wish fulfillment, cool adventures, camaraderie and life lessons.
This small, slight but sort-of-charming book of five Potterverse fairy tales, contextual mini-essays "by" Dumbledore, and further annotations lays out some of the children's stories of Harry Potter's world. All of them bounce off the lessons of the larger series in some way, either directly ("The Deathly Hallows", obviously) or metaphorically (the others illustrate various lessons related to magic -- don't be a dink to Muggles, don't expect magic to be able to do everything, don't store your heart outside your body, and so on, and so forth).
It's a nice little book, nicely designed. In its own way, it highlights the thinness and arbitrariness of Rowling's fictional universe more starkly than any of the main books in the series of seven, but complaining that Rowling isn't Tolkien or Le Guin doesn't seem to be all that useful: she is what she is as a writer, no heavy lifting required. Recommended.