‘The Musicians of Bremen’ by the Brothers Grimm, retold by Philip Pullman

“The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put a robin redbreast in a cage.” This is from Philip Pullman’s introduction to his great book of Brothers Grimm retellings. His ‘The Musicians of Bremen’ is, then, built to be embellished, localised, extended or truncated, but, thanks to his brilliantly economical characterisation of the animal characters, it’s not nearly as flattened as fairy tales are (by his own reckoning) supposed to be. A donkey, a dog, a cat and a cockerel, all recently laid off, form a band and decide to move to Bremen to make it in the local music industry. They never make it to Bremen nor launch their musical careers, but live happily ever after in spite of – or perhaps because of, since they’d have been hounded, sorry, out of the city had they made it there – the title’s suggestion. There is a bronze statue in Bremen of the four animals, stacked on top of each other, which is quite an odd choice for a public sculpture if you’ve read the story.

Included in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Penguin, 2012