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Tuesday, January 29, 2013



I was thrilled when I first heard about a new TV series called Grimm, last year. After all, I write books based on folklore. My interest was also piqued by the fact that David Greenwalt was one of the creators/writers of the series - he is the co-creator of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

Grimm is based on the premise that we live in a world where wesens (creatures from faerie tales as written by the Brothers Grimm) are in fact real and very much alive. These creatures are shapesifters and humans can't see their true forms. However, there are a handful of people out there called Grimms who are able to see their true faces and whose destiny is to protect humanity by keeping the predatory wesens at bay. (I assumed that the Grimms are in fact descendants of the Brothers Grimm, who were of course able to see these creatures for what they were when they wrote those famous fearie tales!)

The fantasy crime drama is set in Portland, Oregon; a refreashing change from the usual LA/NY crime scenes. David Guintoli is cast perfectly as Detective Nick Burkhardt, the darkly handsome Grimm. His partner, Detective Hank Griffin is played by Russel Hornsby. However, Hank appears confused and out of his depth most of the time (maybe he was meant to be!) in the first series.

The love of Nick's life is Juliette, a vetenarian. Played by Bitsie Tulloch, Juliette is beautiful but quite uninspiring. The casting of Silas Weir Mitchell as Munroe, a shapeshifting Wieder Blutbad (big bad werewolf) is a stroke of genius. His friendly, laid-back character is a perfect foil to Guintoli's intense Grimm. Munroe later develops a relationship with a friendly Fuchsbau called Rosalee Calvert (Bree Turner) who runs an apothecary for the wesen community. Rosalee makes potions to counter the illnesses and break the spells which sometimes afflict the wesens. Munroe and Rosalee are two of the most engaging and likeable characters in the series.

The plot thickens when we find out that the Head of the Police Department, Captain Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz) is somehow linked to the dark world of the wesen. Renard turns out to be a Reaper (Grimm Reaper?) - a strong and complex character whose allegiance is uncertain. Renard is assisted by a young lawyer called Adeline Schade (Claire Coffee), who appears to be in love with him. It turns out that Adeline is actually a Hexenbiest (wicked witch), a creature of pure evil.

There are a few disappointments in the series. One of them is the death of  Nick's Aunt Marie (Kate Burton), who is a formidable Grimm herself. She was the one who raised Nick as a child and passed on the mantle of Grimm to him. She also bequethed to him a trailer full of fearsome mediaval weapons and ancient books on Grimm Lore (mostly in German)! The death of Angelina Lasser (Jaime Ray Newman), a fiery red-haired Blutbad, who was also Munroe's ex-girlfriend, is another loss. Angelina is riveting as a female Blutbad.

Another disappointment was the fact that as a Grimm, Nick had to rely on weapons to fight the wesens and seemed incapable of defending himself. Thankfully, he later acquires/develops Slayer-like powers! Yet another irksome fact is the wierd names given to the wesens; Blutbad for a werewolf, and Hexenbiest for a witch? Why not stick to the terms we are all familiar with?

I also noticed that while the animal shapeshifters look slick and handsome in their wesen form, the Hexenbiest and Reaper looked hideous and zombie-like, with rotting flesh. Could this indicate that the wesens like Munroe and Rosalee are not really evil, just following their animal instincts? The other point I'm wondering about: does the Grimm also has a different face? What does the Grimm look like to the wesens?

The Brothers Grimm

While on the subject of Grimm, I will make a detour to that fabulous movie, The Brothers Grimm. Released in 2005 (was it that long ago?), it starred Matt Damon as Wilhelm Grimm and Heath Ledger as Jacob 'Jake' Grimm and directed by Terry Gilliam. Apparently, they were cast against type - the larger than life Ledger played the introverted Jacob while the more thoughtful Damon played the confident, outgoing Wilhelm. It was wonderful nonetheless, to see Matt Damon's bright side!  The filming on location in the Czech Republic gave the movie the dark brooding atmosphere, medieval castles and villages and the enchanted forest every fearie tale needs.
In the movie, the Brothers Grimm are travelling con-artists who use their knowledge of German folklore to perform cleverly executed 'exorcisms' to earn a living. However, they are captured by a French General called Delatombe (with the help of Italian inquisitor Cavaldi) and forced to confront a genuine fairy tale curse, on pain of death. The brothers have to muster all their resources to break the curse in a village called Marbaden, where young girls have been disappearing every night. With the assistance of a strong-willed huntress called Angelika, (Lena Headey), the brothers set out to rescue the children and lift the terrible curse.

When they discover an abondoned tower in the middle of the enchanted forest, the brothers learn from a hunter (who is not only Angelika's father but also a werewolf!) that the curse has been invoked by a 500-year Thuringian Queen also known as The Mirror Queen. Thuringia is a hilly forested area, considered to be part of the German heartland; the other heartland being the Black Forest. The Thuringian Queen is a real historical personage - Basina of Thuringia, who married Childeric I. She is famous for being the mother of Clovis I, the first King of the Franks. However, Basina lived in the 5th Century, while the Brothers Grimm lived in the 18th Century. This would make the Mirror Queen 1,300 years old not 500 years old! While we can overlook a century of two in fairy tales, 800 years is perhaps a bit too much? Perhaps they meant 5th Century Thuringian Queen not 500 year-old Queen? Well, moving on... 

The Mirror Queen was also a witch who collected (stole) the spells of the local villagers. She was able to steal all but one of the spells before a plague ravaged the village and the castle. The queen locked herself in the castle tower to escape the plague and cast a spell on herself and her surroundings, which kept her alive for hundreds of years. But unlike Sleeping Beauty she aged and become decrepit. Only her mirror reflected her true beauty. Perhaps this was because she could not steal the last spell to complete her magic?

The breathtakingly beautiful but evil queen (Monica Belluci), is a complex composite of several fairy tale characters - she is Sleeping Beauty (she put a sleeping spell on herself to escape a plague), Rapunzel (she is locked away in a tower which protects her but is also her prison, and has hair which has been growing for centuries!) and of course Snow White's wicked step-mother, the Mirror Queen. In fact, I suspect she is both Snow White (skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony) and the wicked queen! Futhermore she is also a vampire who needs to drink the blood of 12 virgin girls to restore her youth and beauty.

I felt that the character of Cavaldi and Delatombe made the film a bit chaotic. I'm not complaining about the acting but rather the script itself. They should have been Van Helsing-like witch hunters who roped in the Brothers Grimm to help the people of Marbaden. Also more time should have been devoted to the story of the Mirror Queen instead of those cringeworthy torture scenes! For a political analysis of the movie and the real Brothers Grimm, you might want to visit this website:

The Real Grimms and Charles Perrault

Charles Perrault first wrote the story of
Red Riding Hood but the Brothers Grimm
retold it and claimed the story as it was
based on a German folk tale.

The real Brothers Grimm were in fact serious scholars and linguists who collected and studied German and European folklore. Their first collection of folktales, Children's and Household Tales, were published in 1812. They have been credited with re-telling and preserving now-world famous fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzal, The Frog Prince, Rumplestiltskin and Snow White. The following link takes you to 12 of their most famous tales:

It seems to me that the evil queen in the story of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm is based on the legendary Black Queen of Medvedgrad (refer to my post, The League of Vampires). In a recent movie adaptation called Snow White and the Huntsman, the evil queen was called Ravenna and could shape-shift into a raven(s). In the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowlings, one of the founders of Hogwart was a witch called Rowena Ravenclaw (the other founders were Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff and Salazar Slytherin), a name reminiscent of the Black Queen

The Brothers Grimm also retold Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty; however Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella (Cendrillon), Puss in Boots (Le Chat Botte), Bluebeard and even Red Riding Hood were first written by Charles Perrault. His book, Tales of Mother Goose, was published in Paris in 1695 and helped to lay the foundation for a new literary genre, the Fairy Tale. However, Perrault wrote for an aristocratic audience and the Brothers Grimm retold these tales to make them more accesible to a wider readership. The Brothers Grimm also insisted that Red Riding Hood was in fact based on a German folk tale. It should be noted that Perrault's dark fairy tale Bluebeard is actually the story of a serial killer (if you are unfamiliar with the tale, it is a story of a wealthy nobleman called Bluebeard who had a secret chamber in his mansion, which he kept always under lock and key. His young wife decided to open the door one day and found that it contained the dead bodies of his previous wives!)

Most of these fairy tales have been made into films. The most notable being EverAfter, a retelling of the Cinderella story, directed and written by Andy Tennant. It stars Drew Barrymore as a fiesty, funny and very strong Cinderella who is also intelligent, well read and articulate! Her performance in this movie as Nicole is luminous and riveting. Angelica Houston plays the mean and severe step-mother. We all know that Houston does 'wicked' really well from her performance as the queen of the witches in The Witches; a truly entertaining, funny and scary film based on a book by Roald Dahl. Actually, I expected her to be cast as Prof McGonnegal in the Harry Potter movies but it was not to be so (sigh).

Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister is another re-telling of the Cinderella story; the movie is based on a novel by Gregory Maguire. For me, Bernadette Peters steals the show as the 'wicked' step-mother in Confessions from both Cinderella and her 'ugly' but talented step-sister! Gregory Maguire is most famous for his book, Wicked, which is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, perhaps the most famous fairy tale to originate from the US, although Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a strong contender. 


Charles Perrault: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard.

The Brothers Grimm: Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin and The Frog Prince. They also retold Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Hans Christian Anderson: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Emperor's New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea.

Madame LePrince de Beaumont: Beauty and the Beast

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bibliophobia...!: Eight Treasures of The Dragon

(A blogpost taken from Alan KW Wong's blog: Bibliophobia...!)

Eight Treasures of The Dragon

Things have been a bit slow in the publishing department, but the pace is picking up. A new book came off the presses on... Thursday (or was it Friday?), and a couple more will be out within a month or two.

After Eight Jewels of the Phoenix and Eight Fortunes of the Qilin, comes the latest compilation of retold tales by Tutu Dutta-Yean, Eight Treasures of the Dragon.

Cover for Eight Treasures of the Dragon (left) and one of the
book's illustrated frontispieces

Cute cover, isn't it? Like the type that graces supernatural chick-lit for tweens? A slight departure from the layouts of the previous books' covers, but good-looking nonetheless.

As in the volumes before it, Eight Treasures presents eight stories involving the most famous and perhaps most powerful and ubiquitous of all the mythical creatures. From the Far East to Europe and all the way to the jungles of Central America, the dragon has been part of indigenous lore for a very long time.

A page from Eight Treasures of the Dragon

Among Dutta-Yean's eight draconian treasures is a frosty green pearl, sought by an earnest young adventurer looking to save his village from a meteor-induced drought; an enchanted water barrel used by a regal dragon couple seeking revenge for the loss of their home; a dragon's "secret name", gifted to the monastery acolyte who saved its life; a dragon's egg that dooms a man to a life as a scaly leviathan, and the possible corpse of another dragon whose curse snares the man's son.

Eight Treasures of the Dragon
Retold by Tutu Dutta-Yean
Illustrated by Tan Vay Fern

MPH Group Publishing (2011)
Junior Reader/Legends, Myths & Fables
160 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5997-29-7

RM24.90 | Buy from
Also in the book is the reinterpreted tale of Nyi Roro Kidul, a princess who became the spiritual Queen of the Southern Sea of Java. The Samudra Beach Hotel at Pelabuhan Ratu (Queen's Harbour) in Java was said to have been built near the site where she threw herself into the sea in an attempt to rid herself of a horrible curse. She is usually depicted as a smoking hot woman in green (her favourite colour), sometimes with a dragon's tail - not unlike the dracaena in Greek mythology.

Perhaps in keeping with the customs of previous Javanese rulers, former prime minister Sukarno had room 308 of this hotel done up in a green theme and ordered it kept empty in case Her Spiritual Majesty decided to visit. Bathers in that part of the sea are advised against wearing green, because she is said to find the colour... "irresistible".

Yes, that's her on the cover.

Eight Treasures of the Dragon, retold by Dutta-Yean and illustrated by Tan Vay Fern, is published by MPH Group Publishing and available in all major bookstores.