The Singing Bones

Shaun TanI have not enough space to say all the good things there are to say about The Singing Bones, nor a vocabulary sufficiently stocked to even so much as touch upon a full description of the wonder and delight this volume arouses in me! I mean, for one, I know we really shouldn’t judge books by their cover*, but how can you resist picking this up, knowing that this is a collection of the Grimm’s fairy tales, each tale accompanied by a sculpture in the same vein as the one on the cover?

It gets better. Each tale is presented here as a vignette rather than a retelling, revealing dramatic snippets of each story (the drama is aided all the more by the lighting and setup of each scene), sometimes altogether forgoing any mention of the plot proper. You’ll be exposed not only to a specific adaptation of the tales, but to a new way of interpreting them: Tan acts more as a guide that shows you the sweep of the landscape rather than one that points out all the details.

And if you aren’t completely familiar with the Grimm’s tales, a short synopsis of each of the tales featured in The Singing Bones is provided at the end of the book. It was quite nice to revisit the pages for tales I was unsure or had absolutely no clue about. (In addition to which I’ve blogged about Pullman’s collection of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm before, so although there are some tales Tan covers that aren’t covered by Pullman, it’s well worth a read.)

*I have read and loved several works that I know I would not otherwise have picked up if the covers had been different. How do I know for sure? I read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (the Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky translation with the black & white cover, so not the exact copy that we have, but with a cover illustration in the way of our copy of Camus’ The Rebel) and loved it. But I definitely wouldn’t have picked it up at all based on the cover of the copy we have. (Nothing personal against that copy; it just doesn’t quite speak to me, aesthetically.) Of course, I could argue that the translations themselves might be different for each cover – slight differences, the nuance might have changed, occasionally complete misinterpretations in translations – and that if the translators’ aesthetic tastes appeal to me, then their writing might likewise do the same. (Of course, authors might not have full control over the jackets that grace their books, so I’m not as justified in saying that as I would like to be…) But the point I’m trying to make is: don’t judge a book by its cover, despite everything I’m saying to the contrary here!

About Karen

Karen (she/hers) is a Culinary Literacies Specialist at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre library. When not in the kitchen, she can be found knitting, reading, and repeating.  |  Meet the team

2 thoughts on “The Singing Bones

  1. I love Shaun Tan’s Lost and Found (I’d hyperlink it if could, but alas). The pictures are incredible. The stories are dark and alluring.

    1. I’ve put it on hold for myself! I’m so excited to see what Tan’s illustrations are like! And with the overall mood of The Singing Bones, I’m not surprised that his own stories should be dark and alluring also. Very much looking forward to it.

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