I’m a big fan of retold fairytales. I can recite every Revolting Rhyme from Roald Dahl’s collection. I laughed and laughed at James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, even bought its lacklustre sequel, and for the most part, enjoyed all the film versions.

So you can imagine my excitement when I picked up this delightfully illustrated book. A few paragraphs into the first story and I realized that these retold fairytales and I were not going to end up happily ever after.

Everlasting Tales is like what happens to the perfect vada-pav. The steaming hot, perfectly crisp, spicy and satisfying concoction has comforted homesick or rain-drenched tummies for centuries. And then some over-helpful hick sprinkles in a small spatter of barbeque sauce and tells you it’s reinvented for the new generation, and honestly, you can’t decide whether to laugh in his face or smash his now-offending vada-pav in it.

Change is superb. Change is our friend. Change is what turns Red Riding Hood into a gun-toting, ruthless animal-skin collector as Dahl has done. Or Hansel and Gretel into lethal witch-hunters as modern-day movies have done. However, change is not what Spillman has achieved. Everlasting Tales has some additional inconsequential elements that are difficult for a young child to process, and which lend absolutely no value to perfectly serviceable, often politically incorrect fairytales.

For example, in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, Jack meets the giant’s wife who feeds him. Not once, but twice. Even after he steals their bag of gold and upsets her husband. Does that reform the little golden-egg-laying bird thief? Not in the least! The giant meets his grisly end anyway. In “Sleeping Beauty”, she falls in love with the prince only after chatting with him all day. So, apparently the fact that women are still waiting around – for centuries, in fact – to be rescued by men is not a regressive attitude we need to change, but the fact that she could be infatuated with the fella who gives her her first kiss after a hundred years is!

The blurb says that these stories have been retold for a twenty-first century readership. Feminism aside, there’s so much more our kids are dealing with. Bullying, divorce, an endangered planet, an insecure economy, a growing competitive academic environment… it goes on. Which leaves me unsure about what exactly Spillman is trying to achieve with this particular retelling. Cinderella is still ill-treated by her stepmother and step-siblings; the three little pigs have still not caught on to eco-friendly construction methodology; and the ugly duckling is still mistreated with no strategies for self-preservation.

If fairytales are what you’re looking for, I would suggest any of the many available at the store. Or this one. Either way, you get the classic vada-pav, with a twist you can barely taste, but it still gives you indigestion.

By Itisha Peerbhoy

Author: Ken Spillman
Illustrator: Beth Parrocha
92 pages
Rs 275.00
ISBN: 978-93-5103-700-2
Scholastic, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Anthology
Age-group: 5+


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