Sunday, April 22, 2012

Found Fairy Tales ... and The Turnip Princess

Little did I know when I joined Carl's 'Once Upon a Time' event that I would come across an article that would so fit the theme of this reading challenge.

Here's the background. My daughter and son came home for a Sunday family dinner today. In conversation, Sara mentioned that she'd seen that a huge cache of  'fairy tales' had been discovered in Germany. Did I know anything about it? Duh ... no! This, of course, sent us scurrying for the computer to check it out.

So here's the deal ... a German folklorist and historian named Franz Xaver von Schönwerth worked during the first half of the 19th century in the Bavarian region of what is now, Germany. He patiently travelled the region, collecting and transcribing the stories and tales of the locals. After years of work, he distilled them into a book called Aus der Oberpfaltz - Sitten und Sagen (translates - In the Oberpfaltz- Sitting and Talking). This work was done at about the same time as the Grimm brothers' extensive collection efforts in the Harz region of central Germany. Long story short ... von Schönwerth's work was published in three volumes over the course of the years 1857 -59. It never rose to the level of prominence that the Grimm's work attained. Instead, it settled into obscurity. The collection of more than 500 tales was discovered in a local history archive in Regensburg, a university town in Bavaria. Work is being done on translating the entire collection to English. In the meantime, a German language collection has been published by a cultural committee in the Oberpfaltz. The historical group has called their new collection Prinz Roßzwifl  ( translates - Prince Scarab Beetle).

See this link for an article on the discovery and to read the tale of The Turnip Princess

Now, about The Turnip Princess is a story with all the requisite elements of the classic fairy tale. There's a lost prince, a crone with an animal 'familiar', a strange request made with the promise of true love being found, a twist in the plot, and a final challenge that brings about a 'happily ever after'. 

While we waited for dinner to finish cooking, we read the fairy tale and talked about the 'message' or lesson to be learned from the tale ... there was some discussion of not ignoring the beauty that hides within the most plain exteriors, the importance of trusting directions when someone is trying to help you, and the idea that helping others usually ends up being a 'win-win situation' for all.  Sounded good to me ... and besides, it was time to eat! We were starved! Must have been all that talk of turnips ...

Reflecting on this find, I am so intrigued. I suppose the idea of a large collection like this shouldn't be so surprising, though. The idea of collecting folktales and cultural lore was all the rage among academics during the 19th century. What is puzzling, though, is that the work fell into such obscurity and was buried in piles of old papers just waiting, like a sleeping princess or a buried treasure to be re-discovered. If von Schönwerth was held in such esteem by the Grimm's (read the article), how was his work left by the wayside for so long? How come other academics didn't comment or leave trails that would take modern scholars of early folklore and fairy tales to von Schönwerth? If he published three volumes of work, why haven't copies surfaced over the years? This is a mystery that will no doubt have scholars digging for quite some time!

But, it is a pretty cool story, huh?


  1. How interesting... Now it makes me wonder what defines a fairy tale. Does it still count if it was lost and never entered the culture in the same way? But then, plenty of Grimms' fairy tales aren't at all well-known either.

    I'm not questioning your right to count it for the challenge :) I'm just thinking about fairy tales in a larger sense!

  2. Hmmm ... I guess in thinking about your comment I latched onto the concept of 'lost'. The tales were never 'lost' in the true sense if they were collected and written down for posterity. However, the collection was lost in the greater cultural attention given the Grimm's work. It does beg the question of whether these 'found' fairy tales were ever really lost from the Bavarian culture. To investigate that, I would imagine folklorists will be taking the collection out to small villages to speak with the locals and see whether the tales (or remnants) have survived within the oral tradition of the region over the past 150 years. What an adventure THAT will be!

    1. An interesting point too--were they really lost, or were they preserved in a more narrow culture? And wouldn't that be fun, to go out to the villages and ask people about their folklore!

      Oh, and this is Cheryl--it's trying to list me as "Anonymous" for some reason!

    2. I agree ... what a fun project going to the small villages and seeking out the local storytellers! I'm also interested in the similarities between different (really different) cultures' fairy/folk tales. They dwell so on the core human emotions and fears, desires and human values ... archetypes that carry over from Asian to European to African. I find it amazing that the same folktales reflect the same themes ... oh, to be able to see the timeline of human development and follow the development of the oral tradition!

    3. There must be thousands of lost stories just out there waiting to be found. It's always so nice when one is uncovered.
      Lynn :D