It’s with a grimmace that I admit I didn’t enjoy Adam Gidwitz’s The Grimm Conclusion, the third installment of the Grimm books, as much as I had expected to. The fairy tales were as outrageous and un-Disneyfied as before. The narrator was even chattier than I’d remembered. And we the readers were frequently warned to put the book down, lest we encounter upcoming unpleasant gruesomeness. Nevertheless, The Grimm Conclusion read like a pale reflection of its predecessors, as if it were told through a glass grimmly.
See what I did there?
After being reminded by the chatty narrator that these ain’t your grandma’s fairy tales, but the “grimmest, Grimmest tale” of them all, we meet twins Jorinda and Joringel, whose mother may have been impregnated with the help of a juniper tree. When their parents prove inadequate (one dies of happiness the day they were born, the other locks herself away out of fear and illogical psychology), Jorinda and Joringel promise to cling to each other for ever and ever, until their step father decapitates Joringel with a trunk lid and tricks Jorinda into thinking his death was her fault.
Although Joringel is eventually restored to himself, their mother’s shoddy advice informs how they make sense of this and future traumas: bury the stone that represents pain under mattresses until you don’t feel it anymore, and stamp out the weed that is anger until it never comes back.
Jorinda then goes on to become a child tyrant who sleeps on twenty-five mattresses, while Joringel literally stamps out every green thing in sight.
(What is subtlety?)
Unlike the kids from In A Glass Grimmly, Jorinda and Joringel don’t get to figure things out by themselves–the morals are all outlined in bold. The stone-and-weeds metaphor is repeated ad nauseam, until the narrator, presumably a stand-in for Adam Gidwitz, questions it mid-story. In a metaphysical counseling session that unabashedly smashes down the fourth wall, he spells out the main point for us and our heroes, that Jorinda and Joringel should seriously rethink their life philosophy because not all feelings all bad and need to be suppressed. He, for one, spins his angst into stories to make sense of his childhood trauma. Too bad the kids don’t get his take home message, because they have to go to hell first. No joke. There, they get more advice from the Devil and his granny: they need to stop blaming themselves for things that weren’t their fault.
Eventually, Jorinda and Joringel do go home, the very place people with stone-and-weeds angst should not go because “home is the quarry that the stone was cut from” and “the wild field that blew the weeds into your yard.” Having the kids voice and resolve their childhood pain through the safety of storytelling seems like a great set-up for drama and a cathartic showdown. Instead, their mother instantly apologizes and envelopes them in a teary hug, sufficiently healing them enough to face the forgettable villain, whom they defeat by a too literal application of the moral: their problems could only be solved by expression. By telling their tales, and by making up new ones. Too easy on both accounts. Perhaps that’s why the conclusion wasn’t grim, just underwhelming.