Review: ‘White as Milk, Red as Blood’ by Franz von Schönwerth and Shelley Tanaka (illust. Willow Dawson)

Do not look for me, for you will not find me, even if you walk until you wear out these iron shoes.
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ (2/5 stars)

What’s This Book About?

Genre: Fairy tales (collection)

Synopsis: This book offers twenty-three illustrated fairy tales for grown-ups, collected by Franz von Schönwerth, a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm – these were recorded as they were told, plucked straight out of the oral tradition.

Only discovered in 2009 in a city archive in Germany, these stories remained unchanged from their original state.

They are darker and more violent tales than you may expect, full of powerful princesses, helpless men, lecherous villains, virtuous girls, witches, giants, at least one female serial killer, mer-people, shape-shifters and talking beasts – a kaleidoscope of wonders both familiar and entirely new; rich and strange. 

What I Thought:

Okay, so as someone who hard-core LOVES fairytales, I was So. Hyped. when I saw this in a bookstore! And…it just wasn’t as amazing as the reviews, synopsis and illustrator’s introduction made it out to be.

I was expecting to be wow-ed, and I just didn’t really know if I enjoyed reading this…my overall reaction is just – meh. I don’t feel enough about this book as a whole to say if I liked or disliked it. The best part of this book was probably the illustrations, as well as the introduction, also written by the illustrator.

My illustration research focused on modern-day serial killers and the overgrown places where many take their victims. An old mill hidden deep in the wood is the perfect setting for murder, the kind of death that the beautiful flowers feed off, the flowers the insects feed off, the insects the small animals feed off, the small animals the carnivores feed off, and the earth that drinks it all back up again. Mother Earth – the great abductor, the most prolific serial killer of all.

THAT WAS SO CREEPY, but also made such poetic sense! Sadly, the chill-inducing lyricism didn’t quite manifest in the stories themselves. The introduction makes the stories sound like they’re shockingly different to the fairytales we know today…and they’re not, really. I remember laughing when the introduction stated: “You will not find any ‘Once upon a times…'”…and then I turned to the first tale that opened with “Once there was a wicked old witch…”

(That story did end up being one I liked, though, so fair do’s.)

That’s not to say that there weren’t specific tales I did enjoy! I liked ‘The Gardener’s Son’ (which had my favourite illustration in it), ‘Outwitting the Witch’, ‘The Two Brothers’ and ‘The Enchanted Crow’. Some tales are like warnings or fables, and were pretty entertaining, while others made little ‘sense’, seemed rather random or abruptly cut off…or were simply boring.

I respectfully disagree with the Goodreads synopsis that describes this collection as ‘timeless’ – in fact I think it is essential to remember that it represents a frozen time capsule of European society in that period. It’s definitely not been embellished for modern reading, for example with the Moor character in ‘The Flax Sisters’, so it’s definitely worth bearing that in mind so you won’t accidentally be offended.

…she was poisoned by her envy and grew so ugly that the Moor, who now saw her as his equal, rushed up to her and offered her his hand, which she shoved aside in anger.

The illustration style was beautiful, though sometimes I didn’t quite understand what they depicted – such as in ‘The Clever Bride’. However, I just accepted that there will be many things in this book that I don’t ‘get’, and maybe that’s part of the whole collection’s point. (I will say that there seemed to be an inordinate amount of illustrated nipples in this book! Not a criticism by any means, just something that started cracking me up the more I noticed them.)

Overall, I’m sorry to say I was disappointed on an entertainment level, but from a research and historical point of view, a collection like this is truly fascinating.

Have you read this collection? Do you have any recommendations for dark and thorny fairytales? Leave your thoughts below!

4 thoughts on “Review: ‘White as Milk, Red as Blood’ by Franz von Schönwerth and Shelley Tanaka (illust. Willow Dawson)

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