Read a Newly Rediscovered Bavarian Fairy Tale

The Enchanted Quill and some 500 other fairy tales were transcribed by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth in 1850. A few of those made it into a published collection, but most were lost until quite recently. They have now been translated into English for the first time by Maria Tatar in The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics, 2015). The prose seems a bit more modern that one might expect from a fairy tale (one of the characters shouts “No way!” at one point), but I can’t fault the translator for attempting to move away from the stilted, formulaic style you usually see in this kind of story (and which I even attempted to imitate in a couple chapters of Children of Pride).

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Rowan Williams on Fairy Tales

From his New Statesman review of a trio of recent books relevant to the topic:

In 1947, J R R Tolkien published a celebrated essay on fairy tales in which he insisted that their association with childhood was recent and unfortunate; it misled us into thinking that the genre was not worth serious analysis, not something to “think with”. Marina Warner’s wide-ranging and handsomely produced book Once Upon a Time will reinforce Tolkien’s insistence that these stories are very far from being a simple style of narrative to be outgrown. She surveys the literary history of the fairy tale, from the elegant fables of 17th-century French aristocrats to Angela Carter and beyond, discusses the feminist move to reclaim women’s agency from generations of patronising images of languishing princesses, and offers a parti­cularly interesting analysis of recent film treatments of the classic tales. Her conclusion is that “fairy tales are gradually turning into myths”: paradoxically, in our day, it is adults who seem most to need and use them, because they are just about the only stories we have in common with which to think through deep dilemmas and to keep alive registers of emotion and imagination otherwise being eroded. The fairy tale now has to carry an unprecedented burden of significance, and it is not surprising that modern versions – retellings or radical rewritings, like those of Angela Carter – produce a darker, more complex, less resolved narrative environment than hitherto.

Irish Fairy Tales

Irish Fairy Tales by Edmund Leary is now available in the public domain. According to the Celtic Myth Podshow,

The author of the tales contained in this volume was one of the brightest and most poetic spirits who have appeared in Ireland in the last half century. It is needless to say that he was also one of the most patriotic Irishmen of his generation–patriotic in the highest and widest sense of that term, loving with an ardent love his country, its people, its historic traditions, its hills and plains, its lakes and streams, its raths and mounds. Like all men of his type, he lived largely in the past, and his fancy revelled much in fairy scenes of childhood and youth. So reads the introduction to this book, originally published in 1906 and containing some great Fairy Tales.

You can read or download Irish Fairy Tales at Project Gutenberg.

The Original Grimms’ Fairy Tales Were Not Rated G!

An English translation of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, 1812 first edition, has recently been published. I wouldn’t recommend it for young children:

The first edition of the Brothers Grimms’ tales, in 1812, featured such stories as “How the Children Played at Slaughtering.” Over the next 50 years, each new printing was edited to make it more child-friendly and include more Christian references. But now, the first edition has finally been translated into English.

“The original edition was not published for children or general readers,” Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, tells the Guardian. “It was only after the Grimms published two editions primarily for adults that they changed their attitude and decided to produce a shorter edition for middle-class families. This led to [the] editing and censoring many of the tales.”

500 New Fairy Tales Discovered

Please hurry, English translators!

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

The Evolution of Fantasy Fiction

Leo Elijah Cristea has traced the roots of fantasy fiction, the “Grandfathers of Fantasy” as he calls them, in a brilliant essay at Fantasy Faction. In a single post, he gathers up everything from mythology to faery tales to Poe and Lovecraft and Tolkien and Eddings, showing how they all relate to one another in a vast fantastical “tree of life.” One of my favorite sections:

The ancestor of fantasy is mythology; fantasy’s great-uncle, thrice-removed, is the art of faerie tale; but fantasy’s true grandparents are the fantasists who crafted dreams, speculative realities, and visions of distant worlds, whether by means of the gothic, the early fantastic, or uncanny commentary on the future. Fantasy’s grandparents are far, far older than Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, or Martin.

Due to our unswervingly human need to label, there are more subgenres of fantasy than you could shake a whole forest of ancient oaken sticks at. Helpfully, our predecessors were quite happy to call anything that didn’t mimic whole reality, fantasy. They were right, too. Anything that doesn’t fit into the neat little frame, within which the finite possibilities of our world sit, is left out, branded fantasy. Of course (and this won’t be the first time I’ve flirted with the admission of stating that I believe in what should probably not be believed in) the small grey areas outside of this accepted, built and well-maintained frame  are what fuel a fantasist’s speculation—or at least, that’s how it used to be.

Imagine living and writing in the times of Mary Shelley, or Poe, or John Polidori and his Vampyre, imagine not having all the facts staring at you, and imagine not seeing the world broadcast at you on the news every day. Imagine the itch to write, to learn, to dream, to explore—to speculate.

This is where fantasy proper first appeared.

It’s well worth the time to read it all.

Sunday Inspiration: A Perilous Land

Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold… The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.
—J. R. R. Tolkien