Even Grimmer Tales: Not for the faint-hearted

Adult fairy tales — not for the faint-hearted, indeed! Valerie Volk has transported and adapted many of the classic Brothers Grimm tales into a modern context, demonstrating that the “real” can sometimes be more bizarre and horrific than the imaginary. With witty prose pieces to set the scene and Leszek Hermanowicz’s clever drawings to enhance the mood, each poem becomes a tour de force, demonstrating how these tales still have relevance today. The Brothers would certainly approve!

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Adult fairy tales – not for the faint-hearted, indeed!

Valerie Volk has transported and adapted many of the classic Brothers Grimm tales into a modern context, demonstrating that the “real” can sometimes be more bizarre and horrific than the imaginary.

With witty prose pieces to set the scene and Leszek Hermanowicz’s clever drawings to enhance the mood, each poem becomes a tour de force, demonstrating how these tales still have relevance today.

The Brothers would certainly approve!

Valerie Volk

Valerie Volk has always been a closet writer, starting as a seven-year-old with a collection of embarrassingly bad fairy stories. In the intervening decades as a student, teacher, lecturer, examiner, researcher, education program director, wife, mother of four, and grandmother of six, writing has been a secret indulgence. Now, in this new life as an author, she has published many poems, award-winning short stories, and two books: In Due Season, a collection of poems that won the national Omega Writers’ CALEB Poetry award in 2010, and A Promise of Peaches, a verse novel, in 2011. Her third book, Even Grimmer Tales, is a collection of twisted adaptations of the already dark tales of the Brothers Grimm, and her fourth book is nearing completion. In her lighter moments, she loves reading, film, theatre, travel, classical music, especially opera, jazz and people watching – a never-ending source of interest.



The Brothers Grimm wrote many tales.
My volume is a fair bit slimmer.
Their stories were for children’s eyes.
My tales are really somewhat grimmer.
So enter the dark woods with me.
My forests are a different kind.
These verses show what lies within
the caves and crannies of the mind.

Little Red Riding Hood

A young girl in a red cape – pretty obvious how she got her name – is asked by her mother to deliver food to a sick grandmother. She walks through the woods, where a wolf suggests she picks flowers to take with her. While the girl, clearly a gullible child, does this, he hurries to the grandmother’s cottage, where he gobbles up the elderly lady, takes her clothes and her place in the bed. Red Riding Hood is surprisingly convinced by this substitution, though intrigued by the changed appearance of the old woman, and queries the large ears, eyes, and finally, teeth. “All the better to gobble you up,” he says – and proceeds to do so. But all is well! Both victims are saved by a passing woodsman, who uses his axe to free them from the wolf!


“So do you always dream in colour?”
he asks me.

I stare around his office. Typical shrink talk.
Questions, questions, questions. “How did you feel when …?”
“Have you imagined that ..?” “When your father beat
your mother, did you ever …?” “And when your little sister died
how did you…?

I won’t talk to you about, Herr Dr Hempelmeier.
Forget it, or I’m leaving.

Except, I can’t.
Not till you tell the guards
to take me back

through corridors of steel
and gratings, locking
me in with my thoughts.

Do I dream in colours?
Yes, red. Blood
red. Maybe blue, black and white,
if she’d worn something different.
We’ll never know.

She knew what she was doing,
tripping through the forest past my hut.
A dozen other paths she could have taken.

But no, always this one. Stopping

at my gate, if I was digging
in the garden.

Her mother must have warned her.
Other children kept well clear of any
scent of sweets.
Not her

daring me with raven curls
above the garden gate.

I tell you that she waited for me.
She knew I’d come.

“Off to Grandma’s.”
Her excuse.
A basket full of cakes and pies.
“Have some?
Mum won’t know.”

And something else besides?

But still no further than the gate.
Well taught.

Easy to follow that red lure
to Grandma’s. Many times.
I’m sure she knew.
Anticipation’s sometimes
better than the act …

The day I got there first
she didn’t even hear
old woman’s muffled feeble cries
behind the wardrobe door.

was more inviting.
She knew what she was doing.

Lies, all lies.
That story of a woodsman rushing in.
True there was an axe.
But only me. And Red.

Funny really,
the way the stain merged with her cape.
You couldn’t see it till
the pool grew to the lake
that drowns me every night.

Wonder if she’d worn a blue dress …
Different story then.

Perhaps my dreams
would be a different colour?

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Customer Reviews

1-5 of 8 reviews

  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “On the 200th anniversary of the printing of the Grimm Brothers’ legendary collection of dark tales, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Australian author Valerie Volk’s twisted adaptation on the classic stories takes the ‘grim’ factor to another level.

    Her third book, Even Grimmer Tales: Not for the Faint-Hearted, takes much-loved children’s fairytales like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood, and completely flips them on their head.

    And while Volk admits that some may find the new twist horrifying and shocking, in reality, her stories aren’t that much more controversial or gory as half the shows we watch on our own television screens on a nightly basis.

    “Just about everybody in the western world is familiar with the Grimm fairytales,” Volk offers. “Most us were even brought up on these stories. It continues with the next generation with new movies like Red Riding Hood, Snow White and The Huntsman and some of the Disney films too. … The original Grimm Brothers stories were actually even bloodier and more horrific than the ones that we’ve come to know over the years. When they first came out in 1812 they provoked a fair degree of horror because of some of the details they went into.”

    An award-winning writer, Volk claims Even Grimmer Tales has taught her something new about her own craft after all these years.”

    – Nina Bertok, The Adelaide Review

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “Volk is a passionate, dedicated and highly creative poet. These three recent books are a powerful testament to these qualities, and reverberate with her passion, power and poetic force.

    Even Grimmer Tales is a fascinating set of twisted poetic adaptations of famous tales from the Brothers Grimm. Valerie Volk reinterprets these famous tales for a modern context, with a sardonic eye for richer, darker ironies and a witty take on each traditional story.

    This is a highly polished and deliciously subversive book.”

    – Paul Grover, Studio

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “Many fine stories have been written which began with the writer thinking: Suppose we look at the whole thing from a different angle? Each of Valerie Volk’s considerations of these familiar tales begin with following up this question. The re-imagined characters and situations, then, lie in wait for us as, once, the original tales which the Grimm Brothers collected, also waylaid them…

    If the folk-tales which the Brothers Grimm published and made world famous are to have sceptical 21st-century interpretations, Valerie Volk’s Even Grimmer Tales
    fits the bill admirably. Here, we have such familiar tales as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Snow White’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Thumbling’, and ‘Puss in Boots’ re-invented for the present world. What gives Volk’s re-interpretation of the special appeal is the consistently ironic treatment of the relationship between the characters as a whole.

    In the Grimms’ original versions, problematic as the vulnerable central figures’ circumstances were, the punishment meted out to the wicked was also memorable. Recent research has shown, incidentally, that early 19th-century legal punishments in Germany were similarly harsh. The roles and behaviour of central characters in Volk’s Even Grimmer Tales however are humanised and made far more in tune with present moral expectations. They all speak for themselves, putting the case for their particular reactions to oppression or to opportunities for exploitation with a defensive vigour. And, just as many of the Grimm Brothers’ tales have their imaginative equivalents in other cultures, so too, Volk’s re-alignments of themes offer us a compelling view of drives and compulsions readily recognisable to today’s readers.

    In Even Grimmer Tales the central characters all speak … in the knowing tones we recognise as our world with its lusts, gratifications, and special pleading. … To refresh the memories of those readers who may only vaguely remember a particular Grimm tale, Volk has wisely prefaced each of her strikingly different versions (in well-handled free verse) with a summary of the original Grimm tale, including the occasional contemporary aside as a hint of what’s to come.

    The illustrations to the summaries of the original tales are absolutely charming, further enhancing the sense of their two worlds, the Grimms’ and ours.

    The interpretations of characters, in Volk’s witty enactments are not for what used to be called ‘the little ones’. Rather, they are specifically addressed to ‘a mature reader’. That is, for those who have already (at least, temporarily) plunged into the mordant vale of scepticism. These are very much modern tales, where retribution is, from the start, a two-way process to which many readers will instantly respond. The ferocious deaths are gone, but the ironies of living are correspondingly enhanced in Volk’s innovative telling of the tales.”

    – Bruce Dawe, Australian Author

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “Adelaide author Dr Valerie Volk released her latest book of poetry in a somewhat macabre salute to the 200th anniversary of the Grimms’ original book. In Even Grimmer Tales: Not for the Faint-Hearted, Volk takes much-loved stories and flips them on their head. In fact, the seemingly quiet former English teacher says with a grin: “It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted … it’s triple X-rated. Our children today when they get fairytales are given a fairly expurgated version, but I guess they’ve lived in my mind for having much more potential for the dark side than maybe people realise,” she explains.

    But, regardless of their bloody history, it’s no wonder children enjoy them. “There are very few young children who don’t like listening to a story,” Volk says. “It’s that love of story, that love of fiction, that I think fairytales pick up on so well.”

    “Fairytales are speaking – in an entertaining form – deep truths about people and about people’s lives and wishes and inner yearnings and less worthy desires and all sorts of things,” she says.

    As for Prince Charming rescuing us from a wicked witch or waking us from a sleep with a simple kiss, well . . . we can all dream, can’t we?

    For fairytales, it seems, it will be happily ever after.”

    – Liz Walsh, The Sunday Mail (Adelaide)

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “In Even Grimmer Tales, her third book, Valerie Volk takes on an original approach, “transporting and adapting certain of the classic Brothers Grimm tales into a modern context”. Not for the faint-hearted indeed, as the book’s subtitle says, but the task has been achieved with aplomb.

    The funny, the dark, sly and ironic are all here, but without accompanying Grimm “ferocious deaths”. Nevertheless, this is adult reading (in case you might think of a gift for the little-uns) – but the Grimm originals were always that way.

    The individual pieces are innovative and entertaining, as the jacket notes promise, with Rapunzel, The Frog King, Snow White et al jostling, but not crowding, for their new and timeless representation in the 200th anniversary year of their original 1812 publication. It’s worth a read, as I think those brothers Jacob and Wilhelm would agree.”

    – John Miles, indaily (Adelaide)

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “Volk set out to write her own adults-only version of the tales as part of an exercise set in her poetry group. The idea was to take a fairy story – Volk opted for Red Riding Hood – and give it a fresh twist. And twist it she did.

    Volk’s Sleeping Beauty wakes to a kiss from a necrophiliac mortician and Goldilocks is a manipulative minx who, as Mama Bear reveals, did more than eat their food, sit in their chairs and sleep in their beds.

    They [the original Grimm tales] were called fairy stories, but there were no fairies, and certainly no stardust. These were stories to frighten children into doing what they were told.

    Ever since they first appeared in print, the Grimms’ tales have been re-invented and reinterpreted. … Last year there was Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood, starring Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, with a werewolf and an orphaned woodcutter who wins Red’s heart …
    This year there has been Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, television series Once Upon A Time, with the familiar stories and characters stripped of their happy endings, and Grimm, about a modern-day detective descended from the brothers Grimm who has special powers which are played out in episodes based on different fairy tales.”

    – Deborah Bogle, The Advertiser: SA Weekend

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “A sequence of funny, dark and sly monologues, each of which offers
    a highly entertaining modern take on a traditional fairy story.
    Mother Goose cooked and stuffed with plenty of spice.”

    – Peter Goldsworthy, Australian Author

    July 14, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    “Valerie Volk joins a distinguished tradition of reinterpretation in her latest poems, Even Grimmer Tales. Subtitled Not for the Fainthearted, they take the scalpel to the fairy-stories human culture likes and needs to tell itself. Grimms’ Fairy Tales, still to this day considered amusing and edifying for children, barely conceal violence and eroticism. This is the ground Volk explores in her darkly-ironic fables for our time. Post-Freud, Jung and Bettelheim, today’s reader enjoys a much fuller range of interpretative possibility than was available to the first readers of the brothers Grimm. But as these poems so wittily suggest, interpretation is entangled in assumptions of its own: modish ‘isms’ and ideologies are complicit in constructing the ‘received’ versions of our evolving cultural narratives.

    Here is a gallery of Grimm protagonists, from Cinderella to Puss-in-Boots, each inhabiting the concerns of a twenty-first-century world and speaking its language, each with something to explain, or complain about. Volk plays power games with her sources, shifting the balance of power from perp to victim, or vice-versa. The quasi-religious role of ritual in the world of fairy-tale is subverted to become the prop for perverted psychologies. Dark hints thrown out by the Grimm stories are elaborated as the many-headed monster of dysfunctional family and societal relations. Wickedly suggestive or sinister, these disarmingly confidential speakers divulge incest, rape, paedophilia, fetichism (trichophilia!), murder.

    All this is accomplished in a deft versification that responds to the rhythms and idioms of contemporary colloquial speech, falling for emphasis into rhyme or half-rhyme, building the rhetorics of self-defence and involuntary self-revelation. Knowingly exploiting the dramatic monologue form, Volk up-dates and refreshes it. This poet goes from strength to strength, delighting readers with her inventiveness and her wise, shrewd observation of the human condition.”

    – Jennifer Gribble, Author and Academic, University of Sydney

    July 14, 2023

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