Perth-born Shaun Tan is well known in Australia as an artist and storyteller. His unique world view is shared with readers through surreal and challenging images that he creates to tell provocative stories. The Singing Bones is Tan's most recent publication, delving into the strange, dark and sometimes downright creepy world of fairy tales – a perfect match for his talents!
With a forward by Philip Pullman and a fascinating introduction by fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, this is no children's book. Rather than sharing a technicolor world of Disney-fied princesses and castles, Tan has created simple clay sculptures, photos of which accompany brief excerpts of seventy-five of the Grimm brothers' tales. The sculptures reflect an uncanny weirdness that complements the subject matter. At one point, as my eyes followed the text while reading, my peripheral vision was tricked into seeing fleeting movement, as the overhead light reflected off the page. I was not surprised at all, fully expecting to see the figures in a different position to that which they originally were. Such is the fiendish reading experience of this book – perhaps one saved for daylight hours!
Many of Grimms' fairy tales are not well known – characters such as Gambling Hans, Hans my Hedgehog and Mother Holle rub shoulders with more famous heroes and heroines such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel. Whether renowned or not, the sculptures Tan has formed include enough detail to capture the spirit of each story, but are featureless enough to allow the imagination to fill every gruesome detail. What's more, reading the passages emphasises just how much these folktales have been sanitized and censored from the originals – and how harsh lives were when the Grimm brothers originally collected the stories in the late 1700s.
– Kay Oddone
The Singing Bones delves into the strange, dark and downright creepy world of fairy tales
The Singing Bones
by Shaun Tan
Allen & Unwin
2015, 192 pages, 7.2 x 9.4 inches
Approx $22 USD Buy a copy at Booktopia