A homicidal pedophile in Red Riding Hood’s forest, a necrophiliac whose worst nightmare comes true when Sleeping Beauty wakes up, a self-seeking and manipulative Goldilocks, a Cinderella whose shoe salesman rescues her from a not too appropriate home situation, a Frog King whose transformation does not bring the expected joy to his princess  - these are just a few of the people who inhabit a disconcertingly twisted universe.

This collection of ‘Even Grimmer Tales’ takes the already dark world of the Brothers Grimm and, against the background of twelve well-known stories, explores what the writer in her preamble calls the ‘caves and crannies of the human mind’ – darker places than even the original story-tellers envisaged.

With precision and a fine sense of the ironic, these twelve verse stories – definitely not for children’s bedtime reading – touch on many of the well-known, and some lesser-known, forms of deviant behaviour, but leave the reader with a wry smile to echo the Epilogue’s closing line:

 “There, but for God’s good grace, go I.”

You’ll never again read Grimms fairy tales the same way. 

"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, Writer

Read more reviews below...open and collapse each review by clicking on the title.

REVIEW: Bruce Dawe. Lying in wait, Interactive Press, Brisbane, 2012.

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 fill 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.  We recognise instantly that it is our world.  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 dramatic monologues; we, as readers, are the immediate audience.  They speak in the knowing tones we recognise as our world with its lusts, gratifications, and special pleading.  Central characters each play roles as might some fictional Craig Thomson...  But, 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 red-hot shoes are cobbled in contemporary terms.  The ferocious deaths are gone, but the ironies of living are correspondingly enhanced in Volk's innovative telling of the tales.

Bruce Dawe

REVIEW: Nina Bertok, The Adelaide Review, December 2012.

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.

“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. I originally started out not intending to write this book at all – I was writing something more major – but I was really drawn to poetry and fairy stories while at the same time realising that writing about happy little fairies dashing around was really not my style. So it began when I took the Little Red Riding Hood story and thought, ‘Okay, let’s see what we can do with this’ – that turned into Red.”

Whereas the Grimm original told of an innocent little girl stalked by a hungry wolf, Volk’s version transforms the tale into that of a homicidal paedophile haunting a dark forest. 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.

“There is nothing in this book that you wouldn’t see on shows like Criminal Minds, Bones and CSI,” Volk points out. “This is our daily viewing. It’s nothing that unusual or that perverted in comparison... It’s just that I’m putting them in the context of a Grimm tale. 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. The Brothers Grimm started out by putting together a collection of German folktales to collect tales of cultural heritage. They called them ‘Children’s and Household Stories’ – I don’t think they set out for them to be purely children’s stories by any means. Then later they realised children were reading them too and after that they watered the stories down quite a bit.”

Whereas the Brothers Grimm watered down the sexual elements within their stories and kept a lot of the violence, Volk explains she took on the opposite approach...

“I’ve taken the overt violence out but I’ve left the sex scenes in,” she laughs. “But it’s not even purely about that – the stories are essentially ironic and many of them are quite funny and witty. The reaction has been, ‘Gasp! Good heavens!’ followed by a recognition that there is a degree of humour in there too. What I’ve found interesting in my research of fairy tales in general is how they often mirrored the psychological states of a human being’s mind. If you think about it, so many fairy tales involve a dark forest as well as the relationship between parents and children. For example, in the first version of Snow White there wasn’t a ‘wicked stepmother’ – it was the girl’s own mother who was so jealous of her daughter’s beauty that she took her out to the forest to lose her. These reveal a lot about psychological states – for the children, it’s about the fear of abandonment.”

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

“I’ve realised that I really enjoy writing in the first person and actually becoming the character I’m writing about. I just think it has more impact when you write in verse format. I’ve been published for my poetry and short stories, I’ve been published in journals, I’ve won a number of awards for short stories along the way but, for some reason, when I turned to a longer, more major work, it seemed to become a verse novel rather than prose. I found a wonderful quote from a Czech writer who said, ‘The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities, each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented’. Just because your characters have done horrific things, it doesn’t mean that you would ever dream of doing them, though you are still able to inhabit them.”

Even Grimmer Tales: Not for the Faint-Hearted is published by Interactive Press

REVIEW: The Write Angle - November/December, Coral Hartley, 2012.

Between 1907 and 1814, the brothers Ludwig, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected folk tales from people who lived and worked on farms around Lassel, Germany. The brothers published these grim and gruesome fantasies to preserve for Germany a work created by its people. Their spine-chilling folk-tales achieved lasting fame for the brothers Grimm, and have delighted children of all ages, proving they preferred the evil and sinister to the purely innocuous.

Talented Adelaide poet, Valerie Volk, has adapted a selection of these stories to modern settings, thus making them even more horrific than in their original grotesquerie. Variously described by eminent critics as bizarre, sly, subversive, ironic, witty, yet consistently noir, this collection of poems is supposedly not for the faint-hearted! 

True, salacious adult innuendo creeps in, scarcely offensive in this modern age, and more importantly, not detrimental to adroit poetry. Volk’s mastery of unfaltering rhythm ensures her narrative poems are satisfying and enviable. A brief synopsis of each original exemplar refreshes one’s memory about that particular traditional story, just in case we’ve forgotten Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, et al (as though we ever could). 

Volk’s analogous versions are new stories on old themes, at times edgy-daring, while allowing us to align Grimm’s fairy tales with “even grimmer” modern parallels. The result is innovative, captivating, entertaining and amusing at the same time as it throws up a backcloth of modern societal turpitude. 

Only a poet with outstanding skills and a wicked sense of humour could have done it so well. I warmly recommend this book to poetry lovers everywhere. 

REVIEW: InDaily - John Miles, 1 November 2012.

DESPITE that rather long-standing adage that poetry never sells, poetry authors bravely continue to present their books to the world. Two, of a particular kind, came across the review desk recently.

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.

REVIEW: Sotto , 15 June 2012.

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, University of Sydney

Even Grimmer Tales Poetry

From the revised Cinderella ...

She found her prince, of course.
A nice young man;
a salesman in a shoe shop in the town.
They met one day when she sneaked out,
(a little help from me) to buy some dancing shoes.
I guess that might explain how later on
the story got re-told.

From The Princess and the Frog

You often see him now; his photo’s
in the social pages most weekends.
A different model’s on his arm
each time.

He’s not called ‘Frog’
these days. They’ve nicknamed him
‘The Prince.’ We haven’t seen each other
for a while. He did quite well
out of our breaking up. I don’t regret
the money that it cost.


From Goldilocks and the Three Bears

It wasn’t true, the way they told it later.
Made it sound as if she was
a victim! I kept my peace, and let the story stand.

We didn’t throw her out. Truth was

she sloped away one night,
with every bit of cash we had, my jewellery,
and all the family silver. We never saw
young Goldilocks again.

I sometimes wonder
who she’s taking for a ride these days.


The Fisherman and his Wife

Oh yes, I’m working still, but there were
months in grubby little joints. The men were pigs.
I had to start again, and work my way back up. 

All that’s behind me now.

I have my special talents, and I know their uses.
There’ll always be more men who need a woman
who’s prepared to wear the pants! And wield a whip!