Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Gretel, Cinderella, but who ever heard of the Turnip Princess? 500 Fairy Tales re-discovered after 150 years…

The Brothers Grimm, Han’s Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault are all names you may associate with fairy tales, but how about Franz Xaver Schönwerth? Well, Franz was a peer of the brothers Grimm, a historian who travelled around the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz collecting the folk tales.  In 1885, Jacob Grimm said about Franz; "Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear."

Franz published his work, but unlike the Grimm Brothers he refused to edit or censor the tales for critical acclaim or commercial success, and therefore the book fell in to obscurity. Lost, they disappeared for over 150 years until 2008 when 500 of them they were re-discovered by Erika Eichenseer, a cultural curator at Oberpfalz. Last year Eichenseer published an anthology of the tales and founded the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society.

These 500 new stories include variations of well-known tales, like Rumpelstiltskin, alongside lots of new tales, including one about a Turnip Princess.

Now I’m excited about this, new and raw un-edited fairy tales are a fairy tale enthusiasts dream. And whilst I’ll have to wait for them to be published in English, it’s got me thinking. 

I can recall a good few years in my youth reviling the Grimm’s and other offenders interpretations – people who took raw fairy tales, then edited and sanitised them for mass consumption. I believed they (and I’ve got my feminist hat on now!) sought to make all the female characters evil or subordinate, whilst absolving all the male characters of their reasonability, thereby stripping the tales of their soul and woven messages.
Of course all of these statements are true, but there is one thing this new discovery can teach us; it would appear that as soon as fairy tales are tethered and bound; they die.

Fairy tales are survivors, evolving to adapt to society’s needs. The Grimm’s would appear not to have killed the fairy tales, but to have allowed them to live and flourish with their edits, bringing the ever-changing tales in to our ever-changing society. Whether you agree with the Grimm’s methods or not, if it weren’t for their editing we wouldn’t know of Little Red Riding Hood, or The Big Bad Wolf, and (in my opinion) society and culture would be much the blander for it. 


  1. I'm not sure I follow your logic. Weren't the Grimm fairy tales the ones that were "tethered and bound" by being edited for mass consumption? If that's right, then it's the ones that weren't edited, like Franz's works, that died.

    Also, don't forget that it was a female character who outsmarted old Rumpelstiltskin by figuring out his name. Not all fairy tales cast females in a bad light.

  2. Thanks Adam for the comment.

    You are right of course - it was Franz's tales that died. By contrast - through editing for mass consumption, publishing numerous editions over many years, the Grimm's managed to keep their tales alive and relevant to their audience.

    As for strong female characters in fairy tales, of course they exist - Gretel is another example – but if you go back to older tales, even the earlier versions of the Grimm’s tales, your find that they are stronger and more plentiful.

    1. Good point Sally. Thanks for the great post!

  3. I'm curious about how the unedited fairy tales compare to the ones we have. I'll have to keep an eye out for that book. Thanks for the heads up. :)

  4. Hi Mary,

    If you’re curious about the brothers Grimm's older less edited tales, try 'Grimm's Grimmest’by Tracy Arah Dockray. It’s a collection of their darker tales from the first edition of Children’s and Household tales.

    As for Franz's tales I'll post when I hear any news.