The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling
Despite my adolescent allegiance to Harry Potter, I faded out from the fandom after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so The Tales of Beedle the Bard feels much more recent than it actually is. While I’ve been eying it at my college library ever since I got here, I’ve been thinking of it as very new, so imagine my surprise when I realized it’s already four years old. In any case, I’m always in need of something sweet and light between heavier works of literature, so I picked it up and ended up reading it on the way back from Louisiana.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of fairy tales from the wizarding world, first introduced in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it was given to Hermione Granger in Albus Dumbledore’s will. Freshly translated from the original runes by Hermione herself and accompanied by an introduction by apparent Muggle-wizard liaison J. K. Rowling, this volume also boasts commentary by Albus Dumbledore written before his untimely death. The fairy tales collected include “Babbitty Rabbitty and the Cackling Stump”, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”, and, of course, “The Tale of the Three Brothers”.
While it improved slightly during my revisit of the Harry Potter series, I’ve always found the worldbuilding, extensive as it is, a little iffy. I actually do own the other two defictionalized books from Harry Potter—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. My response to this was much the same as my young response to the other two; note the content and comb through it for clues and worldbuilding. Here Rowling doesn’t disappoint, although she really only offers up a few things for the completionist. There’s the precise date the wizarding world went underground (I now understand those sartorial choices!), the difference between warlocks and wizards, and a brief history of the Elder Wand. But there’s still a dash of the general flimsiness, all based on the premise of Dumbledore having written these notes during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; I squinted when Dumbledore mentioned Horcruxes in a piece meant for public consumption. At this point, though, these stumbles are such a part of the series that I almost find them charming, and, in any case, this is a light book written for charity.
With an emphasis on the light. The Tales of Beedle the Bard are five in total, heavily padded by wide margins, double spacing, and Dumbledore’s notes—and it still only barely squeaks over one hundred pages. I wasn’t expecting academic commentary, given the target audience, but I was expecting longer stories. The only one not mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is “The Wizard’s Hairy Heart”. As Dumbledore’s commentary points out, all these stories are meant to communicate certain truths about magical ability; one cannot raise the dead with magic, one cannot tame one’s passions with magic, so on and so forth. They’re educational and, of course, gory—“The Wizard’s Hairy Heart” in particular. (There’s a brief sidebar about a witch who rewrote these and other children’s tales into content suitable for children; my only note on her is that Rowling seems to have had her set up for quite some time, considering her appearance in the video game adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.) Of the five, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” and “The Tale of Three Brothers” are my favorites. “The Fountain of Fairy Fortune” reads like a traditional fairy tale and boasts a good message; “The Tale of Three Brothers” is classic, with dark resonance independent of the series. (But the film adaptation’s version of this is the best; go have a watch.)
That’s really all there is to say about it—oh, except that Dumbledore shines through as himself, although he lacks the tragedy here that always ennobled the character for me. But it’s worth it just for this line: “This exchange marked the beginning of Mr. Malfoy’s long campaign to have me removed from my post as headmaster of Hogwarts, and of mine to have him removed from his position as Lord Voldemort’s Favorite Death Eater” (42). Oh, Dumbledore.
Bottom line: The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a little light and padded piece of the Harry Potter universe; definitely for ravenous Harry Potter fans and nobody else. A positive eh!
I rented this book from my college library.