REVIEW: “All for Beauty and Youth” by Kelly A. Harmon

Review of Kelly A. Harmon, “All for Beauty and Youth”, Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 41-58 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The story being retold here is “Hansel and Gretel”, as is obvious from the opening line. The retelling follows the traditional storyline but lacks some of the iconic elements, such as Hansel leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so that they can find their way back home.

The sci-fi element of the story is more steampunk than sci-fi; the setting is a context where steam trains are a standard mode of transportation, but where there are clockwork men and clockwork birds, and a very detailed description of a particular machine made out of rubber tubes, bellows, pulleys on pp. 47-48. Sometimes the steampunk setting seemed like a rather thin veneer, rather than being integral to the story, though the resolution (a resolution I didn’t quite understand, for it was not made clear why Hansel and Gretel are able to corner the market on their new product) at the end does rely on clockwork. However, one thing I truly enjoyed about the story was that the elements described as magic in original versions of the story are here explicitly described as science — science is truly magical, and this fact should be exploited more!

The above ends the rather “impersonal” review of the story, in which I try to focus on positive and negative aspects of the story that are accessible to most/many readers, and thus most people can stop here. Below, I’m going to permit myself to indulge in a very personal review of a singular aspect of the story which I suspect will cause no problems whatsoever for most readers (which is why they can all stop with the above and not read any further). But…

…I have to comment on the names. The pin for this story was stuck in Hamburg, and Hansel and Gretel are classic Low German forms of the names, appropriate for the north of Germany — -el is the Low German cognate of the High German diminutive suffix -lein (e.g., Fráulein is “little Frau”, and this word is a specifically High German word). Thus when Hansel calls his sister Gret, he is using a less-diminutized form of the name, rather contrary to how I suspect Harmon used “Gret” vs. “Gretel” in the story. And there is a disconnect between these two proper Low German forms, and the names of characters introduced by Harmon. Britta works fine, but both Fritz and Dietrich are distinctly High — not Low — German forms; I would have loved to have seen Frik and Diderik instead.

It’s a small thing, such a small thing, a thing that probably 99.5% of all the people who read this story will never even notice, much less be bothered by. So why am I mentioning it? Because I’m the one who read the story and am reviewing it, and it does bother me. It’s a useful reminder to authors that (a) you never know what will bother certain readers and not others and (b) what does bother certain readers can be very idiosyncratic to them and just because a reviewer says “this bothered me” doesn’t mean that this is a universal truth that holds for all readers. Reading is a personalised experience, and this happens to be a report of mine.