The Tales of Beedle the Bard” (Scholastic Books, 107 pages, $12.99), J.K. Rowling’s eagerly anticipated new book, is breezy and enjoyable. But it’s important to remind Muggles and Wizards alike that a key element is missing: Harry Potter. Rowling, of course, never promised that her boy wonder would be revived here, except in passing. What the book offers in abundance is the best of Rowling herself: Her wit and wisdom, her quirky and sometimes creepy characters, her incomparable talent for delving into the complexities of life without moralizing. She was, and continues to be, a world-class storyteller. Even her simple, black-and-white illustrations are quite good.
The book is a compilation of five fairy tales that first were mentioned in Rowling’s seventh and final Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Beedle the Bard, Rowling explains, lived in the 15th century and was distinguished by a “luxuriant beard” and a soft spot for Muggles (humans). “Tales” was translated from the ancient Runes by Harry’s friend Hermione Granger and is enriched with commentary by his beloved headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. In “Deathly Hallows,” the final fairy tale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” plays a pivotal role in the dramatic climax between Harry and Lord Voldemort.
As with all good fairy tales, Rowling tackles universal themes without knocking us over the head: Unrequited love, good vs. evil, the quest — and high price often paid — for power-lust. In “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” for example, a selfish man learns kindness, although not without a hearty kick in the pants. “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” celebrates generosity of spirit, and might be too sweet without Dumbledore’s funny postscript about how it caused rumblings because of its implied “interbreeding between wizards and Muggles.”
Even those who have never read a Potter book will find resonance in these tales, and gems aplenty. “No man or woman alive, magical or not, has ever escaped some form of injury,” Rowling writes. “To hurt is as human as to breathe.”
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350