Week 10: European Fairy Tales

Please choose carefully! If you can't decide for yourself, let the Fates decide... Then, when you have made your choice, you can start the Week's Assignments.

You will find a lot of familiar stories in the Tales by the Brothers Grimm - but you will also find some stories that are probably new to you, along with some unfamiliar details in some very familiar stories! The Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were two of the most important scholars of German mythology and folklore in the 19th century. In their quest to understand the history of the German people through all possible sources of evidence, they collected folktales and stories, as well as studying German epics and sagas, and even studying the history of the German language itself. If you are interested in the history of folklore studies, you should probably choose the Brothers Grimm this week, and get acquainted with this small part of their enormous folklore research. Here are some quotes:

The two pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Grethel lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven. The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her.

There was once a country man who had money and land in plenty, but however rich he was, his happiness was still lacking in one respect - he had no children. At last he became angry, and when he got home he said, "I will have a child, even if it be a hedgehog." Then his wife had a child that was a hedgehog in the upper part of his body and a boy in the lower.

To the shepherd's great astonishment, the bone began of its own accord to sing -
ah, friend thou blowest upon my bone.
Long have I lain beside the water,
my brother slew me for the boar,
and took for his wife the king's young daughter.

You may also be familiar with the stories of Hans Christian Andersen which are included in this week's reading, such as the story of "The Little Mermaid" or "The Ugly Duckling." It is possible, however, that you have not actually read Andersen's version of these stories - and if you like to read beautiful literary retellings of folktales, you will really like Andersen's style! While the Brothers Grimm are key figures in the collection and study of traditional folklore, Hans Christian Andersen is the key figure for the use of folktales in literature, and his stories have influenced many modern writers, including C.S. Lewis and his Narnia stories. So if you prefer to read longer stories written in a more literary style, then Andersen is definitely the option you should choose this week. Here are some quotes:

The little lady was a dancer, and she stretched out both her arms, and raised one of her legs so high, that the tin soldier could not see it at all, and he thought that she, like himself, had only one leg. "That is the wife for me," he thought; "but she is too grand, and lives in a castle, while I have only a box to live in."

The hen said, "Believe me, I speak only for your own good. I may tell you unpleasant truths, but that is a proof of my friendship. I advise you, therefore, to lay eggs, and learn to purr as quickly as possible."

"But think again," said the witch; "for when once your shape has become like a human being, you can no more be a mermaid. You will never return through the water to your sisters, or to your father's palace again; and if you do not win the love of the prince, so that he is willing to forget his father and mother for your sake, and to love you with his whole soul, and allow the priest to join your hands that you may be man and wife, then you will never have an immortal soul. The first morning after he marries another your heart will break, and you will become foam on the crest of the waves."

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM