There are two reasons you should buy this book. First, it’s by J.K. Rowling, the Elvis of children’s literature, and not buying anything written by J.K. Rowling might bring about the end of the world. Second, it’s for a good cause, and about a fifth of the money you pay for it will go to a charity that Rowling supports.
There are five short stories in this book, all set in the Harry Potter universe but in an age well before the boy wizard’s rise to greatness. Each of the stories is followed by notes, written from the point of view of Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore, explaining the stories and giving us a bit of wizarding history. The tales themselves are good compounds of old classics, modified to fit into the Potter universe. Die-hard Potterheads will love them as they are, and more mature readers should enjoy playing spot-the-source. My favourite is The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, which is quick, brutal and unhappy, like all the old fairy tales were. The rest are fairly obvious old chestnuts, which is a disappointment when you consider Rowling’s well-showcased ability to do interesting things with plots. This feels like a book she threw together in a week; in its tone, it’s somewhat similar to Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu, the companion volume to her masterwork Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but it lacks Clarke’s literary depth and scope.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard: Penguin India, 104 pages, Rs600.
There’s nothing about Beedle the Bard that justifies the hype around it except the author’s name. You want edgy, brilliant retellings of old fables? Try Neil Gaiman. Entertaining footnotes and digressions? Terry Pratchett and Jonathan Stroud do them far better. In the “tiny companions to huge series” sub-category, Philip Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford is richer and deeper. The other companion volumes to the Harry Potter series, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them, were little add-on volumes too, but they were quirkier and more entertaining reads. There’s nothing wrong with Beedle the Bard—but nothing exceptional about it either, especially given the vast pool of resources Rowling has created in her series. It’s more like something you’d find in a special features section of a DVD. I’d suggest giving some money to a local children’s welfare organization instead, and buying a book by Anushka Ravishankar, Vandana Singh or Venita Coelho.
Samit Basu is the author of The GameWorld Trilogy.