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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Valiant Little Tailor

Éric Chevillard

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To purchase The Valiant Little Tailor

Title: The Valiant Little Tailor
Author: Éric Chevillard
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 193 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Valiant Little Tailor - US
The Valiant Little Tailor - UK
The Valiant Little Tailor - Canada
Le vaillant petit tailleur - Canada
Le vaillant petit tailleur - France
Das tapfere Schneiderlein - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Yale University Press
  • French title: Le vaillant petit tailleur
  • Translated by Jordan Stump

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Our Assessment:

B : a neat re-presentation of a very familiar tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 15/11/2003 Guylaine Massoutre
Libération . 16/10/2003 J.-B. Harang
NZZ am Sonntag . 25/10/2015 Martin Zingg
TLS . 9/6/2023 Muriel Zagha

  From the Reviews:
  • "Voilà, d'entrée de jeu, l'histrion de littérature sortant son habit de clown et transformant notre univers en cirque grotesque. (...) De laconiques et incisives formules sur les «Grimm Grimm», sur les péripéties romanesques et sur leurs lecteurs émaillent le texte (...) On rejoint des bricolages textuels plus abstraits. Que de clins d'oeil sympathiques à la pataphysique ! Allez démonter les mécanismes secrets du court-circuit. Trouvez le conte." - Guylaine Massoutre, Le Devoir

  • "Attention, le Vaillant Petit Tailleur de Chevillard est un vrai conte de Grimm, avec son héros pauvre et malin, ses rois, ses reines, ses géants à tuer, ses princesses à épouser, ses centaures et ses licornes, ses mouches. Ses mouches surtout. Mais sa chair, comme celle de toute l'oeuvre de Chevillard, est faite de digressions, sauf que chez lui la digression n'est ni du remplissage ni de la broderie, c'est au contraire l'usage du mot juste à sa juste place, dans une intelligence et une complicité de bonne compagnie avec le lecteur, poussant la confiance jusqu'à lui dire lorsqu'il s'attarde: «Partez devant, je vous rattrape.» Sous couvert de cocasseries et de mots d'auteur, Chevillard, à chaque livraison, redonne à la littérature la vertu du vertige." - Jean-Baptiste Harang, Libération

  • "Was Chevillard aber vorher noch inszeniert, ist ein furioses Erzählfeuerwerk. Er geht den einzelnen Stationen des Märchens entlang und klopft sie nach Anschlussmöglichkeiten ab. Jeder Assoziation geht der Franzose nach, er knöpft sich Wendungen vor und dekliniert alles durch, was seine quecksilbrige Phantasie ihm eingibt. Hält abrupt inne und macht anderswo weiter, räsoniert einen Moment lang und fegt wieder in hohem Tempo quer durch die Zeiten. Chevillard blättert das Märchen buchstäblich von allen Seiten her auf, als wäre es in einen Teilchenbeschleuniger geraten." - Martin Zingg, Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag

  • "This is all very clever. Yet Chevillard’s enterprise is not without its problems. One of his goals in writing is to defeat literary cliché -- a task that can sometimes feel equally demanding of the reader. His self-conscious dedication to overturning assumptions can, at moments, make him sound like an annoyingly eccentric uncle who, instead of reading a child’s favourite bedtime story, insists on ad-libbing all the way through. At other points, though, Chevillard can be exhilarating, as he breathes powerful life into words, creating a sense of poetic animism, catching us off-guard." - Muriel Zagha, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As the title suggests, The Valiant Little Tailor is a kind of variation on the familiar tale by the Brothers Grimm in which a tailor parlays his feat of dispatching seven flies with one blow -- and the misunderstandings about the fact that his motto of 'Seven at one blow' refers merely to flies -- into, eventually, nothing less than the hand of a princess and a whole kingdom of his own. Chevillard re-tells the tale, but adds considerably more -- not least, commentary on his own exercise here, as he (as author) is a prominent presence in the narrative. Indeed, central to what he is doing here is the question and issue of authorship. As Chevillard points out, the Brothers Grimm recorded the story, but are not the ones with whom it originated -- and he suggests that it is:

no doubt a great story, but one that -- to sum all this up -- has from the start suffered from the absence of an author
       As he adds: "it is not too late to give it one" -- and picks up the mantle.
       He reminds readers of this fixation on authorship repeatedly, including noting:
     It should be clear, then, that my work here focuses less on this little piece of naïve prose than on the author I want to give it, who must be endowed with superior qualities, first among them the sure hand and infallible judgment necessary to bring such an undertaking to fruition.
       The reader, too, is kept in mind and referred to, and possible reactions considered -- including that of those who may have purchased the book and: "sincerely believed from the title that they were buying the Brothers Grimm's story just as they knew it [...] perhaps in a new translation to justify this republication". Chevillard's version does, in fact, offer practically all of the original tale -- re-packaged, however, with considerable embellishments, as well as quite a few variations in the actual telling of the tale.
       Early on, he notes:
(T)his is a juggernaut of a story we have ahead of us, mile-a-minute, one plot twist after another, and never a lull between them: once we get going, we're not going to have many chances to catch our breath.
       Adding to the juggernaut, he manages to go off on tangents and to digress at many points along the way, both expanding on the story and offering both personal reactions and reminiscences. Eventually, he even comes to offer a list of: "One hundred new feats and challenges, designed for the use of sovereigns wishing to test the mettle and valor of their daughters' suitors", the likes of which mostly would not have occurred to the Brothers Grimm ("With a handsaw, carve a poem from a dictionary", for example, or: "Reverse the syntactical structures of two languages with neither side noticing").
       Even in the re-telling of the tailor-story, the author reminds readers of his presence, as in the lovely ending to the chapter where the tailor prepares to set out to confront the two giants:
     "You'll have a hundred horsemen with you, along with our finest lancers and archers."
     "No need -- let them stay and look after their children. What are two foes to one who has killed seven with one blow ? I shall fight alone."
     That's ending a chapter with a flourish.
       Continuing the game, Chevillard does not immediately continue the story when he opens the next chapter but rather digresses, happy to leave the reader: "pacing and fidgeting at the edge of the woods for just a bit longer". As he explains:
     That's the essence of the narrative art, the judicious use of pauses and diversions to artfully arouse and maintain the reader's interest. I learned that lesson from the masters.
       And he proves quite good at it here.
       Among others, he contrasts the Grimm-tale with Don Quixote -- finding:
There's no denying it: in the end, "The Valiant Little Tailor" is at best a childish, somewhat inane variation on Cervantes' masterpiece, and at worst a dreary uninspired plagiarism.
       And yet he also sees potential in it:
     I must also note that the Brothers Grimm, even rowing for all they were worth with their four oars, would never have kept pace with the one-armed Spaniard. How many revisions and rewrites would their text have to undergo to change "The Valiant Little Tailor" into Don Quixote ? What a task that would be !
     But also what a worthy and glorious project !
       And, of course, in part, that is his -- this -- project.
       It makes for a creative take on story-telling, suggesting the potential in even the most familiar tale, with Chevillard riffing comfortably across subject-matters and stories old and new. He notes that: "The authority of the printed word never fails to amaze me", but he also challenges it, showing that even a story essentially set in stone -- as the so-familiar Brothers Grimm-tales essentially are -- can be re-shaped and re-made. He makes himself the author of The Valiant Little Tailor -- and yet in its closing turn slyly suggests that he too may be playing a game just like the valiant tailor so long did, subtly misrepresenting actual accomplishment.
       Good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 September 2022

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The Valiant Little Tailor: Reviews: Eric Chevillard: Other books by Éric Chevillard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Éric Chevillard was born in 1964.

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