I'm not the easiest person to buy presents for. You can't just pop out and pick me up a CD or a book because chances are if its one I'm inclined to listen to or read I'll have already managed to get a copy to review for these pages. Which made it doubly surprising that my wife walked in the door beaming the other day after returning from a trip to Canada's big bookstore chain -- a place she normally hates setting foot in for a vast array of justifiable reasons -- sure that she had found me something that not only I didn't own, but would give me a lot of pleasure.
My wife's instincts are usually pretty dead on and this was no exception, The Tales Of Beedle The Bard by J.K.Rowling, distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada, is a delight from start to finish. Its a slim volume reminiscent in both style and layout of the wonderful books of poetry by A.A. Milne that I read as a child, elegant hardcover books on whose pages another surprise always awaited in the form of either a new poem or an illustration peeking out form some unexpected corner.
Now like the rest of the non-magical world I first heard of Beedle The Bard through Ms. Rowling's other books, specifically the penultimate Harry Potter book, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows in which one story in particular played a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the series. (If you think I'm going to tell you which one you're out of luck - if you've read the Potter book you'll all ready know which it is, and if you haven't... well, what on earth are you waiting for?) The Tales Of Beedle The Bard is set firmly in the same world that Harry Potter occupies. For as Rowling points out in her introduction, two characters from the series played a key role in its production. The text is a new translation by Hermione Granger, from the original runes, and the late Albus Dumbledore wrote the extensive annotations that accompany each story.
You'll notice some obvious differences and similarities between Beedle's tales and the ones told by the non-magical community. The most obvious of the former is of course the fact that magic is taken for granted in the stories, and not something supernatural that the hero or heroine must overcome. Unlike our stories the female characters don't just wait around for someone to come and rescue them as they are every bit as capable as the male characters at getting in and out of scrapes. However, much like many of our stories each of Beedle's tales contains a life lesson for the young witch or wizard reading the tale that stress the importance of personal attributes like tolerance, forbearance, love, and generosity.