J.K. Rowling turned the world’s attention to children’s fantasy literature with the publication and mass popularity of her Harry Potter novels. Not long after the release of the final volume in this series, Rowling also created a sort of “companion storybook” to explain certain references she made in some of her Harry Potter books. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is certainly a very unusual collection of “fairy tales.” Five separate stories, complete with “comments” by Albus Dumbledore (one of Rowling’s original characters) and notes by Rowling, propagate morals and ethics in a magical parallel world.
Albus Dumbledore’s wise “commentary” is a figurative afterword through which Rowling objectively analyzes the development and meaning behind her own stories in relation to the world of Harry Potter. Similar to Aesop’s Fables, each tale implies its setting to be in the world of Harry Potter and naturally includes magic. However, The Tales of Beedle the Bard is more notable for not only its roots in the realistic world but also how it contemplates the strange qualities that define what life, death, love, and humanity are.
For example, The Fountain of Fair Fortune sounds like a narrative out of The Canterbury Tales, with its protagonists’ quests and ultimate discovery standing prominently in a poetic, romantic fable. In fact, this particular story could be the best of all five included by Rowling. On the other hand, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart demonstrates Rowling’s straightforward tolerance in writing when describing realistic violence. Her main character is afflicted with greed, selfishness, and cold-heartedness; he has decided never to love anyone and therefore avoid pain and self-destruction. In a dark twist on themes in a fairy tale like Beauty and the Beast and echoing gruesome realities portrayed in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the author shows how the warlock does become ruined by his selfish choice and lack of feeling, ending with the deterioration of his own heart and his gory murder of his innocent fiancé.
Blatantly defaming in famous witchcraft trials that led to such atrocities as described in The Crucible and other dramatic works, Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump is funnier than it appears to be. It’s all about a clever witch versus a deceptive magician wanting to please a fickle king who is very antagonistic toward magic-kind, but not magic in itself. Rowling talks again about using magic for selfish gain in The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, where a magical item teaches a selfish wizard a lesson in generosity.
However, the final story in The Tales of Beedle the Bard does not involve magic per se, but focuses on death instead. In The Tale of the Three Brothers, a group of brothers come face-to-face with Death and each of them must choose what he will receive in order to escape his fate. A classic example of how to outwit even death itself, every brother realizes later on in his life if his answer to Death was wise or foolish. They all learn that death itself is inescapable for every human, no matter how long one may avoid this inevitable end for long. While The Tales of Beedle the Bard is not an anthology of stories that has remarkable genius or is very entertaining, it still is original in the fact that all five stories by Rowling are distinct from any fairy tales or fables ever written before and are quite memorable in that respect alone.