Saturday, February 4, 2017

THE SINGING BONES - A REVIEW

The Singing Bones
Written by: Shaun Tan
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
Language: English
September 2016 (first published Oct 2015
Genre: Fairytales/Art

A unique and alluring art book showcasing Shaun Tan's extraordinary sculptures based on the timeless and compelling fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

In this beautifully presented volume, the essence of seventy-five fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm is wonderfully evoked by Shaun Tan's extraordinary sculptures.

Nameless princes, wicked stepsisters, greedy kings, honourable peasants and ruthless witches, tales of love, betrayal, adventure and magical transformation: all inspiration for this stunning gallery of sculptural works. Introduced by Grimm Tales author Philip Pullman and leading fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, The Singing Bones breathes new life into some of the world's most beloved fairy tales.


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I have said it before, but I will venture to say it again. I love fairytales and folklore. They make me so very happy. I grew up listening to fairytales and legends. I wanted to be part of them. I wanted to visit the worlds and escape into the absurdity of some of them. They were my bedtime stories with my mother. And oh the dreams I had because of them.

Admittedly, I picked up The Singing Bones without knowing too much about the author. I knew that it was Grimm tales and the cover with the sculpture hooked me right away. How have I not heard of Shaun Tan? Have I been living under a rock? Yes, perhaps.

Like I said, it astounds me that I have not read any of Shaun Tan’s other works or realized how talented he is. Of course as soon as I was finished with the Singing Bones I remedied that and picked up The Arrival. He has his own unique style and yet one that fits so wonderfully within the worlds of Gaiman and McKean.


Things I liked: The Singing Bones is rather simple. On one page is a snippet of one of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, on the opposite page is a photo of one of Tan’s sculptures. There is no story that ties them all together. And yet each showcases a particular tale and a particular sculpture. I think Neil Gaiman said it best in the foreword that Tan’s sculptures ..”suggest, they do not describe. They imply, they do not delineate. They are, in themselves, stories. Not the frozen moments in time that a classical illustration needs to be. These are something new, something deeper. They do not look like moments of the stories: instead, they feel like the stories themselves.”

The fairytales themselves are just snippets from the original Grimm tale. For example Rapunzel’s story is just this: “Rapunzel grew to the most beautiful child under the sun. But when she was twelve years old, the sorceress locked her in a tower that was in a forest. It had neither door nor stairs, only a little window high above. Whenever the sorceress wanted to visit her, she would stand below and call out, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.’” And yet if you look at the sculpture, you know immediately who it is. The sculpture alone holds so much weight. It tells its own story.

I also really loved that many of the tales are ones that many have probably not heard of. There were even a few obscure ones that I had not yet heard of and then immediately went and read more about (Though there is a lovely glossary at the end of the book that has a small cliff notes version of each of the tales should you need further reference). The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About Fear and Godfather Death two really great tales by the way. I think that All Fur is my favorite sculpture. So, so gorgeous. I also loved The Little Shroud as well. Seriously these are beautiful pieces. Guh.

As I said before, each of the sculptures holds its own. Some are instantly recognizable (Rapunzel), while others are not. The figures are uniquely Tan, as I have come to learn as I see more of his works, and read other things he has done. They are quirky. Sometimes so simple, but holding so many stories within (The Little Shroud), and other times more complex in their interpretation of the tale. I really loved them so much.

Things I didn’t like so much: I have nothing here folks. This was one of my favorite reads this year.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. If you like fairytales and art this is perfect for you.

Part of: Standalone.

Also Recommended: For more Shaun Tan please check his others books The Arrival, Lost & Found, and Tales from Outer Suburbia. For more Grimm’s fairytales try Hansel & Gretel by Sybille Schenker, The Complete Grimm’s Fairytales, and Fairytales From the Brothers Grimm Edited by Philip Pullman.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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