500 New Undiscovered Fairy Tales?!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): King of Lullaby by Eiffel 65.

Sergey Tyukanov

Have you HEARD? Did you know that 500 unknown fairy tales have been languishing over over a century in a Regensburg archive have recently been discovered???! Or is it really true?

Once upon a time there was a historian by the name of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth who admired the work Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm of recent years. Because of this he also went about collecting and publishing three volumes of folk customs and legends in 1857, 1858, and 1859. But from poor sales, he stopped publishing the series and they began to gather dust and were soon forgotten. At what point they were "discovered" is unknown, but in 2010, Erika Eichenseer, curator of the Regensburg, Germany archive published over one-hundred of these fairy tales under the name of Prinz Roßwifl (‘Roßwifl’ is a local dialect word for scarab or dung beetle. Go figure*). Jump to 2012 there was the whole mini internet explosion almost exactly a year ago when these fairy tales of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth were "rediscovered."

Some were local variations of well-known fairy tales, such as Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin, but there are others such as "The Turnip Princess," "King Goldenhair," and another where a girl escapes a witch by turning into a pond. Which the witch promptly drinks up. Which then the girl retaliates by cutting her way out of the witch.

Both Professor Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes have some absolutely fascinating commentary on this whole endeavor. I HIGHLY recommend checking both of them out  (Zipes, for example, points out several collections of unknown fairy tales that haven't made a blip of acknowledgement hardly anywhere). But from Professor Maria Tatar:

Schönwerth’s tales have a compositional fierceness and energy rarely seen in stories gathered by the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, collectors who gave us relatively tame versions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” and “Rapunzel.” Schönwerth gives us a harsher dose of reality than most collections. His Cinderella is a woodcutter’s daughter who uses golden slippers to recover her beloved from beyond the moon and the sun. His miller’s daughter wields an ax and uses it to disenchant a prince by chopping off the tail of a gigantic black cat. The stories remain untouched by literary sensibilities. No throat-clearing for Schönwerth, who begins in medias res, with “A princess was ill” or “A prince was lost in the woods,” rather than “Once upon a time…”

… Our own culture, under the spell of Grimm and Perrault, has favored fairy tales starring girls rather than boys, princesses rather than princes. But Schönwerth’s stories show us that once upon a time, Cinderfellas evidently suffered right alongside Cinderellas, and handsome young men fell into slumbers nearly as deep as Briar Rose’s hundred-year nap. Just as girls became domestic drudges and suffered under the curse of evil mothers and stepmothers, boys, too, served out terms as gardeners and servants, sometimes banished into the woods by hostile fathers. Like Snow White, they had to plead with a hunter for their lives. And they are as good as they are beautiful—Schönwerth uses the German term “schön,” or beautiful, for both male and female protagonists.

And why were these male protagonists who suffered equal hardships all but forgotten? You'll have to read the rest of Professor Tatar's article to find out. :)

It is also interesting to note that many of these stories are already available in the university libraries of Harvard, Yale, Stansford, and Berkley. So, "undiscovered?" Not quite so, but certainly lost from the radar, which is precisely up my alley. :) And since Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was far more interested in keeping the oral tradition, cultural customs and natural variances intact (tangents, pauses and all), there is a fair amount of cleanup work to be done before they can be read in a written form with ease. There are already more than whispers of plans to make these widely available in English. And one-hundred tales are already available via Erika Eichenseer. If you can read German. :)

But you can read The Turnip Princess here now.

*Turns out on a little more research, the scarab or "dung" beetle buries it's most valuable possession--its eggs--in dung, and then rolls it into a ball, which Eichenseer views as symbolic of fairy tales. Double go figure.