Yeah, I know some of you are jealous.
It’s always nice to get a new book of folk and fairy tales. It’s also nice when much of the world gets excited about the book, too. Sadly, I’ll have to wait to read this one because I’ve accumulated quite a number of unread books that I’m going to have to read first.
Also, though I am excited to read this book, I do have one teensy problem with the blurb on the back. What problem? Well, it’s the first sentence, really. Here’s what it says:
“With this volume, the holy trinity of fairy tales- the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen- becomes a quartet.”
First of all, I think it might be a bit presumptuous to add Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth to a list of the biggest names in fairy tale writing. The man’s work has just been rediscovered. He hasn’t made his reputation yet. Heck, I myself haven’t even read the book. Secondly, I’m a bit put off by the fact that there’s a “holy trinity” of fairy tale writers in the first place. I could question the choices for who’s in this “trinity”. I mean, Charles Perrault is hardly a well-known name outside of literary and folklore circles. Sometimes I think the only reason people know the name Hans Christian Andersen is because it was the title of a Danny Kaye movie. Though, I suppose it’s the popularity of certain stories and concepts that puts these on the list. Perrault’s “Cinderella” and “Puss in Boots” are both fairy tale standards. For Andersen, stories like “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” have become recognized worldwide. I won’t even bother making the argument for the Grimms. It doesn’t need to be done. However, I think my biggest problem is that there is just a trinity. With all the writers and folklorists who went out there to collect stories and make the fairy tale universe bigger for us, people only acknowledge these three.
I suppose that just like comic book superhero fans, people who write about fairy tales get a little bit hung up on the idea of a “big three”. It’s Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for DC Comics’ Justice League. It’s Captain
Iron Man and Thor for Marvel Comics’ Avengers.
So, it’s Grimm, Perrault and Andersen for the world of fairy tales. America
However, what if we expanded their number? What if we made it a “big seven” instead. I mean, it’s a perfectly suitable number. The number seven is a symbolic number in both folklore and myth. That’s why I use it for my “top seven” posts. Also, it works with the metaphor I’ve got going here because the Justice League and the Avengers commonly have seven member rosters (despite the movie Avengers only having six, not counting Nick Fury).
So, we’ll assume that the list goes like this for now:
1) Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
2) Charles Perrault
3) Hans Christian Andersen
4) Franz Xaver von Schonwerth
We’ll be charitable and include Schonwerth until I’ve read the book and decide otherwise. That leaves us with three open slots. Here are my candidates:
5) Joseph Jacobs- Jacobs is sort of the Grimm of England and sort of isn’t. What I mean is that, while he did follow the Grimms’ example in creating a book of fairy tales, he actually chose to follow their later example after their books started to gain popular acclaim. Instead of creating a scholarly work for folklorists to read and argue over, he set out to create a commercial work that was meant to entertain children. Sometimes I wonder if this was what keeps him off of people’s lists. Jacobs was actually an Australian writer who was moved by the same nationalistic pride as the Grimms (
being part of the English disapora at the time). One interesting thing to note is that in
addition to seeking out oral sources, Jacobs also took stories from the English
chapbook tradition, which was an interesting route to take. He also was ultra-inclusive, taking stories
from all over the English speaking world in such places as Australia Scotland and as far away as his homeland of . Prior to this, many people claimed that Australia had no
fairy tales. Instead of accepting this
supposed limitation, he widened the playing field. However, it’s the stories that are in his
book English Fairy Tales that speak
for his placement on this list. They
include “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “The Story of the Three Little Pigs”, The
Story of the Three Bears” (which he gives full credit to Robert Southey for
writing first, classy fellow that he is), “Jack the Giant-Killer” and “The
History of Tom Thumb”. You would not
believe how many people out there seem to believe these are Grimm stories. It’s hard to imagine the world of popular
fairy tales without these stories, yet the world has forgotten the name of the
man who wrote them down. Other fairy
tale books he wrote include Celtic Fairy
Tales, More Celtic Fairy Tales, More
English Fairy Tales, Indian Fairy Tales and European Folk and Fairy Tales.
On a personal note, there’s one reason why Jacobs has to make my
personal list. I just thought English Fairy Tales was way too much
fun! It’s one of the few fairy tale
books that I found to be fun from beginning to end with few dull stories if any
(well “Whittington and his Cat” might be the exception). Sometimes, that’s all you need. England
6) Peter Christen Asbornsen and Jorgen Moe- Here we have another duo act, like the Brothers Grimm (or Batman and Robin). Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Engebretsen Moe were a teacher and a minister who came together to write the definitive collection of Norwegian folk tales, Norske Folkeeventyr. The publication of their book, like the Grimms’ book, was fueled in large part by some degree of nationalistic zeal. The country of
gained partial independence from the Swedes and the Danes. In Norway , Asbjornsen and Moe are as
associated with the concept of fairy tales as the Grimms are in other
countries. Now you say, “That’s great,
but why does this matter to those of us who aren’t in Norway ?” Well, okay, so maybe the majority of their
tales have not become household names. Their
collections are full of great tales, but many of them just didn’t become
well-known except to fairy tale fans. However,
one little tale has become a household name and in a way it has added something
big to the fairy tale landscape. That
story is “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”.
With this little story about three goats crossing a bridge, they’ve
added one more monster to the fairy tale creature bestiary alongside the witch,
giant, ogre, dragon and big bad wolf.
That creature is the troll. It
doesn’t seem like a big deal, but can you imagine the world of the European
fairy tales without the troll? It’s
become such a well-known concept that it’s become a slang term for rude people on the internet. The great thing about
all this is that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Open their book and suddenly you see trolls
of all shapes and sizes. Heck, the
illustrations in their book even inspired the movie Troll Hunter. So, one little thing from a fantastic book
has impacted how much of the world (or at least much of the USA) sees European fairy tales. Norway
7) Alexander Afanasyev- To the outside world, Afanasyev may seem a more unusual choice than even the two I’ve already chosen. After all, the canon of well-known European fairy tales rarely if ever extends to the more Central European Slavic countries, let alone all the way to
. However, every super team line-up usually has
at least one character that is a little more obscure but is still great in his
or her own way. As a scholar and
folklorist who published nearly 600 Russian folk tales, it’s hard to argue with
Afansyev’s greatness. Afansyev was a
scholar of the Mythological school, who viewed folk tales as echoes of a
distant mythological past. In the 1850s,
Afansyev was asked by the Russian Geographic Society to edit and publish the
large collection of folk stories they had accumulated. This was the beginning of his
collection. Afansyev’s tales may not be
household names. They may have never
inspired any Russia Hollywood animated movies. But to those in the know, these tales are
loved and respected. His collection
introduced the world to Baba Yaga, and I have yet to meet a fairy tale geek who
does not love or at least know Baba Yaga.
His stories influenced the narrative trappings of The Fairy Tale Lobby. Afansyev’s tales have inspired the musical
works of Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky.
So, Afansyev is my choice in the lineup for the hardcore fairy tale
fans. Sadly, Afansyev died at the age of
45 penniless in . It’s nice to know his work was remembered,
So, there you have it. My line-up of fairy tale writing superheroes. A group dedicated to bringing truth, justice and folklore to all mankind! Keep in mind, my lineup may differ from yours. There are any number of other fairy tale writers who you might think deserve a spot on the “big seven”. Heck, I’m reading The Pentamerone right now and Giambatista Basile is seriously growing on me.
So, let’s have it. In the comments section, let me know what your lineup would be for your own personal Fairy Tale League of Super-Writers!