When they discovered a huge cache of unpublished fairy tales several years back, I got kind of excited. I’ve always loved fairy tales…not the clean, sanitized Disney versions with frolicking animals and happily-ever-afters but the gory Perrault and Grimm versions, filled with dripping blood, cannibalistic witches and plenty of murderous endeavors. Five hundred new fairy tales, painstakingly gathered by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth and locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years? Yes, please.
Von Schönwerth spent decades asking people (the “lower” and working class folks, mainly) about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and writing everything down, recording stories that before had been passed on only by word of mouth. As with the tales collected by Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers, these stories were told to teach both children and adults about the dangers of the world and how positive character aspects could help one overcome adversity (or be eaten by a witch, whichever the case may be).
The stories themselves, read as just stories, are rather dry and challenging to read. A whole pile of them just kind of ramble on, as if a child were telling a story, “And then this happened…and then this happened…and then they all died. The end.” There’s no real prose to these stories, though I can totally see a small family gathered around a fire on a long winter’s night, the father telling his children scary tales in a deep, sonorous voice. Orally, with the right atmosphere and in German, the original language of these stories, the fairy tales might just hit the spot. I did like the different local takes on Cinderella and several other classic fairy tales as well as the new tales, all as blunt and bloody as their predecessors (and, truly, isn’t that why we read these unsanitized versions? No? Just me? Okay.).
This collection that Penguin has assembled would be amazing to study as part of a class (yes, I’m a total nerd. I know this and fully embrace it.). I’d get so much out of a great class discussion where we would compare these stories of Von Schönwerth with those of Perrault and the Grimm brothers and other stories of the oral tradition from around the world… See? Nerd. Here I am, writing curriculum in my head for a class that, as a journalism teacher, I’ll never take or teach. However, I’m going to pass this book onto my English Department — it would make an awesome addition to their curriculum (I’m thinking as part of a junior or senior year class? Hum…).
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