Sunday, November 04, 2007


Amy Laura Schlitz’s new adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s The Bearskinner is a well-told tale. It brought back the darkness and mystery that first drew me into classic fairy tales.

A soldier is walking through the woods one winter night, contemplating how he has no family, no food, and nowhere to sleep. He notices he is being followed by the devil. He knows that he shouldn’t make a bargain with the devil, but when a bear appears, he shoots it and that starts the process for the devil to take his soul. Soon the soldier has agreed to wear the bear’s skin and wander the world for seven years without bathing or grooming, but he will have more than enough money. If he doesn’t call upon God or commit suicide, he may have his soul back. Classic fairy tale events follow as the Bearskinner wanders the world, trying not to fall into despair.

Schlitz captures the tone of the bleak story as she begins with the passage,
They say that when a man gives up hope,
the devil walks at this side.
So begins this story:
A soldier marched through a dark wood,
and he did not march alone.
It’s positively eerie.

Max Grafe’s muddy-brown palette for the mixed-media illustrations actually makes them more beautiful and emphasizes the bleak medieval world of the Bearskinner. Only the devil’s coat is a brilliant, emerald green. He is meant to be tempting, and in that coat, he is.

This is one of the most enjoyable Grimm adaptations I’ve read in a while. It would make a beautiful gift book.

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