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500 new German fairy tales discovered
March 7, 2012 10:37 PM   Subscribe

"The Turnip Princess" is one of 500 German fairy-tales recently unearthed in an archive. They were collected by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth about 150 years ago, around the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting fairytales. Some are variations of well known stories such as Cinderella, others are completely new like a Turnip Princess, or the story of a maiden who turns herself into a pond to escape a witch, who then attempts to drink the lake. A translator is working on an English edition.
posted by stbalbach (38 comments total) 110 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool link, thanks for posting. However, it would be more correct to say the Grimm stories were collected almost exactly 200 years ago, and are intimately connected with the Romantic movement, which in turn helped result in the nationalism and nation-building that emerged later in the century.

Anyway, the Wikipedia article is actually a really good resource on Grimm's fairytales, and it provides a fascinating hint at amount of editing that went on after the first edition was published.

Does anyone know of an accessible analysis of the books?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:48 PM on March 7, 2012


Somewhere a dinsey executive was just brought back from the brink of death.
posted by The Whelk at 10:51 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somewhere a dinsey executive was just brought back from the brink of death.

Fuck that, let's extend copyright so they can't get to it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:52 PM on March 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


If anything, The Turnip Princess makes me appreciate the Grimm brothers more. I wonder if the Grimms' source materials were this raw and disjointed before they edited them.
posted by PurdyontheBlue at 11:15 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that was a pretty weird story. From some of the odd wording, I suspect it suffered in translation. But I would like to read more, I hope this wasn't the best of the lot.

BTW, I saw this headline and knew it would eventually descend into whining about copyrights. I just didn't expect it would happen on the second comment.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:42 PM on March 7, 2012


One day there was a protagonist, the end.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:50 PM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


This:

Von Schönwerth was a historian and recorded what he heard faithfully, making no attempt to put a literary gloss on it, which is where he differs from the Grimm brothers.

and the bit about Grimm's extensive editing in the Wikipedia article linked by KokuRyu come as a bit of a surprise - I remember reading through a lot of the fairytales in a "Brüder Grimm: Kinder- und Hausmärchen" edition (I have no recollection if it actually was the one in the link), and being absolutely astonished at the bawdy tone of some of the tales. Also, quite a few of them were rather confusing to read - a bit like "The Turnip Princess", only much more so, they seemed either entirely devoid of narrative logic and structure or else made from scraps, as it were, seeming to follow one avenue, then suddenly veering off, one type of narrative voice/element/micro-structure interrupted by another etc.

I didn't manage to make head or tail of what I was reading at that point - very different from the tight constructions I tended to associate with Grimm's tales from my childhood readings, and like no other story-telling I had ever encountered. Three things threw a different light on these texts, which initially seemed like nothing more than a bad joke:

1. I came across a collection of lesser-known myths from around the globe (sadly I forgot title, editor, any other relevant information which might help be find it again). Most of them were very interesting, but not unusual. A few were, again, entirely incomprehensible when approached with the usual narrative expectations - and, as far as I remember, these were more or less transcripts of oral re-telling by Kamchatkan shamans, collected a few decades ago (probably early 20th century, actually). I remember one which seemed to come out of a Dada prose laboratory, about a girl who was as beautiful as a copper kettle (?) or maybe was beautiful and also lived in a copper kettle (?). It was about a page long, seemed to have no point, no real story, nothing, other strange juxtapositions of plot elements jumbled up into a random text.

2. One day I asked my grandmother how she had "hooked up" with my grandfather. She had the part about how they first met pat, and delivered the story smoothly, succinctly and with narrative flair. But when I asked her to elaborate on the distance travelled between first meeting and marrying, her story grew much more tentative and confused, and not just with regard to what actually happened, but also with regard to how she told it. Minus the bawdy, it sounded quite a lot like the tales which had so surprised me.

3. At some point I ended up reading quite a few autobiographies. One of them was "Autobiographical conversations with X", and in dialogue form throughout (great care had been taken to present a word-for-word transcript, including contradictions, filler sounds, interruptions were recorded etc.). The same kind of discrepancy between re-remembered stories and stories dug out of memory and constructed on the spot was apparent that I had observed when talking to my grandmother. A couple of the ad hoc constructed stories, as it were, actually made an appearance twice, and the second time they had gained a lot of structure and definition, even a moral.

I kind of wish now I had studied this more - still, there is a huge amount of interesting literature out there discussing one or the other aspect connected to memory-narrative-naturalisation.

Can't wait to read more of Schönwert's tales - are there any more online? And thank you very much for these links.
posted by miorita at 11:58 PM on March 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


One day there was a protagonist, the end.

LOL. That is quite similar to the folktale my Dad used to tell us when we asked for a bedtime story. He would say, "There once was a man who lived, then died. The end." He was of (vaguely) German descent but I don't think that could account for this tale.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:08 AM on March 8, 2012


Somewhere out there, Wataru Yanagida is calling his agent and saying "See? I told you my vision would be recognized one day." Now that's a fairy-tale ending.
posted by No-sword at 12:12 AM on March 8, 2012


Prompted by this post (see my comment above), I did another Google search on the world-myths book and actually found it! I had searched for it so often that I'd lost all hope...

In case anyone is interested, here is the story of the girl with the head like a copper tea-pot (as it turns out). The italicized introduction is from the book:

Quikinna'qu And The Stone Pine Girl

Culture Of Origin: Siberian - Koryak

Provenance: from an oral tradition among the Koryak hunters living on the Bering Sea coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula in south-eastern Siberia. Modern authorship is that of the Swedish ethnologist Waldemar Jochelson, who recorded the tale in the village of Tilliran during the Jesup North Pacific Survey of 1900, sponsored by the American Society for Natural History [Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 10, 1905].

Like the previous entry, this myth underlines the primitive hunting belief that all objects in nature are transmutable and may also conceal spirit beings who have the power to reveal themselves in human form. The ending, like that of many Siberian stories recorded at the turn of the century, is confused and suggests a partially remembered oral tradition of a society whose culture is in a state of serious decline.


Quikinna'qu (Big Raven) goes to the woods, where he finds a cone that has fallen from a Stone Pine tree. This he smashes with a stone and from it emerges a girl with a head like a copper tea-pot. Quikinna'qu tells her that she is pretty. She replies, 'Do you say that I am pretty? Mama says come into the house.' The house is the twisted trunk of the Stone Pine whose sleeping room is in the hollow of a big branch.

When he enters the house, Quikinna'qu complains that he is hungry and he is told to open the stomach of the girl's mother. This he

does and, peering inside, he discovers that it is filled with the nicely fatty meat of a mountain sheep. He eats, chokes himself and dies.
posted by miorita at 12:16 AM on March 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


Today Iearned that the story telling style of David Lynch suggests a society whose culture is in a serious state of decline.
posted by idiopath at 12:33 AM on March 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


A lot of times, fairy tales/myths that seem confused to us (and the anthropologist/ethnographer), are only so because we lack the contextual grounding to be able to understand their symbolism. Context is everything from language, to to story-telling structure(s), to physical/geographical setting, to everyday life, to specific wisdom.

For instance, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. One of the Native American tales from the region deals with a mother, her son and daughter, and a strange new woman who "goes". The daughter is suspicious of how the woman "goes", and warns her mother, who refuses to listen to her. The strange woman marries the son. Again the daughter is alarmed by the sound of her "going", and again the mother refuses to listen. Then, one night, the daughter hears a dripping sound. She follows it, and discovers that her brother has had his throat slit by the strange woman, who has disappeared. The sound was of his blood dripping. The mother weeps and wails, bemoaning... her son's house posts. The daughter is distraught and says, "in vain I tried to tell you."

For the longest time, European newcomers interpreted this tale as a fear of homosexuality, and this interpretation was even taught in public schools. It turns out, that when you actually speak with the tribe who told the tale, and learn their language and story-telling structures, it means no such thing at all... it is instead a warning tale about a self-centered mother who refuses to listen to her daughter's intuition. The mother's self-centeredness is anchored at the end (as is traditional to the tribal story-telling structure), with her bemoaning her son's house posts. What you have to know is that house posts represented material wealth. So, basically, this woman's son is murdered by a strange woman (in fact, we don't even know what she is, which comes out in linguistic peculiarities and yet more symbols well-known to the tribe – malevolent spirits), and what does the mother do but say "gosh darn it I'm going to be less wealthy now", while the daughter illustrates the appropriate reaction (ditto story structure and linguistic elements): sorrow at her brother's death and chiding the mother's unwillingness to take her seriously. This moral could also be extended to society at large: the great danger of disregarding important information.

If you're interested in that sort of thing, there are dense yet incredibly interesting works by linguist/anthropologist/folklorist Dell Hymes, one of the same name: "In Vain I Tried To Tell You". It very much opened my own mind to just how circumscribed we are by our own linguistic and cultural settings, even those of us who are already aware of it to an extent.
posted by fraula at 1:10 AM on March 8, 2012 [24 favorites]


I’d be interested to know how many seemingly incomprehensible folk tales were originally quite specific allegories but have come loose from their contexts. I’ve recently discovered an eighteenth-century Polish writer called Ignacy Krasicki, who wrote a collection of satirical poems in the form of animal fables. At first glance, they seem like surreal vignettes, but when you start to dig into the context, they’re quite acute commentaries on various aspects of contemporary Polish and European politics.

It’s not unthinkable that the girl with the head like a copper tea-pot was once a recognisable reference to something or someone real, or that gutting the girl’s mother only to choke on her innards was an allegory for a particular historical event. When our tribe stumbled upon the home of the tribe who wore copper helmets, they welcomed us into their midst and offered hospitality, only to betray us.
posted by him at 1:12 AM on March 8, 2012


Take that bloody disney tag down before they steal these too.
posted by pompomtom at 1:38 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


This post seems to be missing a link for the untranslated, German-language fairy tales. A lot of us speak German and would enjoy reading them!
posted by dunkadunc at 1:40 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a child, I always liked Hauffs fairy tales much more.

posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:43 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that long ago I was in a bar and on the wall was written,
Ein altes Umrainisches Sprichwort warnt:
Eine geschichte, die mit einer Roten Beete anfängt, endet mit den Teufel.


A story that starts with a red beet ends with the devil.

(could also be understood as "...ends with trouble.")

I have since looked high and wide for stories that start with red beets. So here's another avenue to look down.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:55 AM on March 8, 2012


...the turnip princess? (' o ')

How did they know?? (O_O)
posted by lemuring at 2:11 AM on March 8, 2012


*(Princess Peach)
posted by lemuring at 2:18 AM on March 8, 2012


Fraula, thank you so much for that reference - I've ordered it on Amazon.

It very much opened my own mind to just how circumscribed we are by our own linguistic and cultural settings, even those of us who are already aware of it to an extent.

This is one of the reasons why, to my mind, the concept of naturalization/narrativisation as used by narratologists seems to be very useful - not least because it carries no value judgement, but describes something which happens when we encounter the entirely unfamiliar. From the link:

... social and cultural elements go to work here by providing common shared and socially acquired cognitive frames, thus insuring that a mutual understanding of what a narrative is about will be fairly possible within a certain social and cultural context. [...] narrativization is making a given story be understandable is relation to a prototypical "meta-story" we inherit from our culture and society, but also from the mere experience of being alive. Narrativization, in a sense, is life and fiction coming to terms.

What happens, for me, in cases such as the Koryak myth, the Native American tale, some of Grimm's tale or the Turnip Princess linked to in the post is that I am entirely lacking any of the necessary cognitive frames to be able to meaningfully approach them. Dell Hymes discussion which you linked to above turns on a light for me, and I assume it is not just in terms of this text, but also, probably, with regard to others (at least in the sense that I might get a clearer understanding of where the key points are which underpin my lack of understanding, if that makes sense, and where extra-textual information should be sought). In the absence of such an aid for the Koryak myth, I don't even understand what I don't understand, and I suspect I am not the only one. It would be interesting to see, when confronted with such unusual stories as these, where each of us would locate inconsistencies or incomprehensible actions, structures, sequences, motivations etc, and to what extent we would ask similar questions to aid our comprehension. Also, to compare the amount of overlap/divergence to overlaps/divergences of the social and cultural premises we each bring to the table.

This:

Context is everything from language, to to story-telling structure(s), to physical/geographical setting, to everyday life, to specific wisdom.

reminds me of a book by Jack Goody and S. W. D. K. Gandah, The Third Bagre: A Myth Revisited. From the Amazon page: The Bagre is a long recitation myth associated with a secret association found among the LoDagaa people of northern Ghana. Authors Goody and Gandah have recorded these recitations for some forty years. ... many variations in these recitations can be recorded and compared. When this was done for the Bagre, the authors found great variation, showing not so much the powers of memory (which were earlier praised) but the creativity of reciters and the number of alternative world views which those creations embody, from evolutionary to creation stories, and from theocentric accounts to those stressing how man makes himself.
. Here are some transcripts. Apparently, the specific circumstances of each recitation, the actual participants, etc. had decisive impact not only on the form and tone of the recitation, but on what was included from the pool of generally known themes/episodes/characters, and even how they were interpreted (one action was positive in one telling and negative in another and might even be lacking in a third). An outsider, unfamiliar with the implicit pool of possible Bagre elements (and how these could yield new creations with each new telling) would have no chance to understand what was going on: not only did he lack the necessary knowledge to figure out how apparently extraneous circumstances featured in the telling (who was there and why that was important, what the occasion was etc.), but he/she would also not have access to those parts of the Bagre which remained untold in a specific performance, and would therefore be unable to summon these to help with the interpretation of what was going on.

Re:

I’d be interested to know how many seemingly incomprehensible folk tales were originally quite specific allegories but have come loose from their contexts.


There is a fascinating book by V. I. Propp called The Historical Roots of the Wondertale (here's a link to the Russian original, English translations are scarce, it seems) which hypothesizes that myth and ritual are, in fact, sources of fairytale, once the social and cultural elementswhich provide common shared and socially acquired cognitive frames are lost. But I suspect that him hits the nail on the head, and that there are a variety of factors bringing about loss and enrichment in most orally transmitted material.

Apologies for being so verbose, this is a fascinating subject.
posted by miorita at 2:42 AM on March 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


I’d be interested to know how many seemingly incomprehensible folk tales were originally quite specific allegories but have come loose from their contexts.

Robert Darnton's essay 'Peasants Tell Tales' is about precisely this, except that Darnton sees folk tales as quite literal depictions of peasant life that have been mistakenly read as allegories. Put bluntly, folk tales depict a world that is often violent, cruel and unfair for the simple reason that peasant life in early modern Europe was often violent, cruel and unfair.

Darnton is particularly critical of Bruno Bettelheim for failing to read fairy tales as historical documents and failing to realise how heavily they were revised by Perrault, the Grimms and later editors. It will be fascinating to see how far these newly discovered tales help us to read 'behind' the Grimm versions. Maria Tatar argues in The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales that the Grimms took a lot of the sex out of the stories even though they don't seem to have been so troubled about the violence.
posted by verstegan at 3:34 AM on March 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I saw the title of the first link, I was expecting this. I had forgotten that there weren't any princesses in that one.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:49 AM on March 8, 2012


miorita: Some cultures rely on Shaggy-dog stories as a means of not only passing time or sharing company, but also to highlight the storyteller's craft. In spite of the prevalence of text, illiteracy was still existent, particularly in terms of certain regional dialects' idioms. With limited access to written tomes, and still prior to radio development, fragmented stories - humorously or even gruesomely expressed - worked just as well as regular gossip or structured narratives in terms of captivating attention and passing the time. In a similar sense, haggling in market settings can serve as a means of adding an offbeat or absurd narrative to an otherwise routine, perfunctory event.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:58 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Verstegen, thank you for reminding me of the name of Tatar's book, which I wanted to comment with earlier. Hers was my first introduction to the history of revisions other than the more recent Victorian revisions and then 'Disneyfication' but I'm travelling today and couldn't just leap to my bookshelf.

I'm continually fascinated by both the universality of themes but also the ones that require a lot of unpacking, like the Pacific Northwest ones or some of the Central Asian ones I unearthed in grad school - I just don't have the background for it, and resources can be few and far between. (Eg Propp's texts in English). It's so worth it when everything falls together, because as a once-and-forever anthropologist, it feels like getting it right is solving a beautiful puzzle that then reveals so much more than the sum of its parts.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:08 AM on March 8, 2012


Ummm...it seems pretty self evident that that Pacific Northwest story was about the mother not listening. Because of how the mother refused the listen. And how the daughter-in-law says "in vain I tried to tell you".

I don't even see how you get homosexuality from that.
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’d be interested to know how many seemingly incomprehensible folk tales were originally quite specific allegories but have come loose from their contexts.

There are even perfectly comprehensible folk tales that are presumably comprehended differently than they were originally. I just realized the point of Jack and the Beanstalk recently. If you ignore the magic beans and the physical gigantism, what you have is a desperate peasant killing a rich guy and stealing all his wealth. (I'm probably pretty late to the party on this.)
posted by DU at 5:06 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


For anyone who's curious, I went and looked for the fairytales in the original German. It looks like if you want to read them auf Deutsch, then you're going to have to buy the book (or borrow it from a German library). The book's been out since 2010 in Germany, so you'd have to do more wading through Google than I felt like doing to find out if there are German sources which quote the fairytales.
posted by colfax at 5:23 AM on March 8, 2012


the Grimms took a lot of the sex out of the stories even though they don't seem to have been so troubled about the violence.

So, they're the spiritual ancestors of the MPAA?
posted by stevis23 at 5:40 AM on March 8, 2012


I'm behind the idea that the fairy stories evoke a sense of wonder and strangeness because we don't have the correct frame of reference. Also, I'm really going to have to read that Tatar book and the Darnton essay.
posted by immlass at 6:06 AM on March 8, 2012


MetaFilter: Ignore the magic beans.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:22 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I swear I read a Swedish version of the "girl who turns into a pond to escape the witch" story. It will now haunt me until I find it...
posted by gemmy at 6:28 AM on March 8, 2012


Maria Tatar argues in The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales that the Grimms took a lot of the sex out of the stories even though they don't seem to have been so troubled about the violence.

Oh, hell yeah. I've heard that in earlier versions of Sleeping Beauty, that the prince doesn't wake Beauty up with a kiss - he has sex with her, while she's still asleep, and then zips up and goes on his way. And she stays asleep long enough to gestate and then deliver twins, and it's the twins, who start trying to find something on her to suckle on, who finally wake her up (the baby boy starts sucking on the finger she pricked and sucks out the splinter that put her to sleep). It's only when the prince comes back to find Beauty again ("y'know, that was a sweet little fuck I had with that chick who was asleep, lemme see if she's still in the same place...") that he finds her awake with two his kids and decides to marry her.

It's my understanding that during the Middle Ages, people didn't find it necessary to shield the kids from some of the gritter truths of life -- and it wouldn't have been easy anyway, as families usually lived all in one room so the kids probably saw a lot anyway.

There are even perfectly comprehensible folk tales that are presumably comprehended differently than they were originally.

I wish I could remember the name of the book that discussed this (I heard Peter Gabriel invoke it in an interview) -- but yeah. There's a folklorist who argued that the story of The Frog Prince could be about first sex; if you think about it, many of our first encounters with sexual things kinda freak us out, much like the princess is freaked out by the ugly frog. So the story of the ugly frog becoming a handsome prince is a huge reassurance that "trust us, this sex stuff gets way better."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Somewhere a dinsey executive was just brought back from the brink of death.

Fuck that, let's extend copyright so they can't get to it.


Cutting off pinocchio's nose to spite his face?
posted by dubold at 7:02 AM on March 8, 2012


My dream is that David Byrne sets a bunch of these to music.
posted by newdaddy at 10:47 AM on March 8, 2012


While it is easy to accept that we lose context for stories, there is something to be said for absurdism or experiment for its own sake.

I like the fantasy that every century has its own Finnegans Wake (and 4'33" and Nude Descending a Staircase etc.), but the appeal is so narrow that they are just more likely to be forgotten than the more accessible stories.
posted by idiopath at 12:12 PM on March 8, 2012


Good In Our Time on the Brother's Grimm and their editing process.
posted by shothotbot at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2012


Rapunzel was pregnant? Disney left that little tidbit out of Tangled.
posted by deborah at 4:06 PM on March 8, 2012


I swear I read a Swedish version of the "girl who turns into a pond to escape the witch" story. It will now haunt me until I find it...

Yeah, I read a Grimm's fairy tale a few weeks ago about a girl and a boy who escape from a witch's house. Each time the witch's servant gets close to finding them, the girl tells the boy to turn into something and she turns into something else. The last time it's a pond and a duck in it. The witch's servant goes to drink up the pond, but the duck pulls her head under the water and drowns her. It was called "Fundvogel".

I think "The Dog and The Sparrow" must prove that humans universally find small, adorable animals being badass to be a hilarious thing. Either that or I totally missed the point.
posted by purplecrackers at 1:21 AM on March 9, 2012


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