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Two hungry children follow a trail of crumbs in the woods. A lonely princess finds solace in a warm house with seven little bowls. Dressed in red, a brave girl carries cake and wine through the forest to her grandmother.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales, first published in 1812, are about many things: magic and families, wickedness and talking animals. But running through many of them is a brutal obsession with food. The Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm) collected stories of hunger: what horrors it will drive some people to and how sweet it feels to satisfy it.
The end of September sees a new version of 50 of the tales from Philip Pullman, Grimm Tales: For Young and Old (Penguin, £20). Pullman has wisely changed the tales very little. But he does sprinkle them with new imaginative details, and he has fleshed out many of the meals. In one story the Brothers Grimm say that a greedy stepsister brings bread and cake on a journey. Pullman changes this to chicken-liver pâté sandwiches and chocolate cake.
In another tale (‘One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes’) a girl meets a magic goat who can summon up delicious meals for her. Pullman imagines exactly how delicious: ‘leek soup, roast chicken and strawberries and cream’. What Pullman doesn’t change is the utter fixation of the Grimms with hunger.