The Folk Tales of the Second Reader
Boots and his Brothers. Boots is just such a saga hero as is the lad who went to the north windís house. He is unafraid and inquisitive. He wants to know the why of everything. Because he persists good-naturedly in spite of taunts, he finds out. This is an excellent lesson for the schoolroom, but teachers should not, of course, fall into the habit of preaching and of using every story for a sermon. Stories were invented to relieve us from preaching. The "moral" of this tale needs no emphasis. An interesting parallel could be drawn between Boots and Mr. Edison. The marvels attendant upon the inquiries of the one are not so great as the marvels attendant upon the inquiries of the other. For Mr. Edison, not only do axes hew and hack and spades dig and delve without manís muscles being immediately applied, but absent persons talk and sing as if present.
The Elves and the Shoemaker is a typical folk fairytale. It is one of a group published by Grimm under the title "The Elves" (39). It is called "The First Story." The others are called "The Second Story" and "The Third Story." The second is about a servant girl who has a sort of Rip Van Winkle experience with the elves; and the third is about a changeling. Grimmís versions come from Hesse, but in the notes he mentions a number of variants. Such tales are numerous in the south of Scotland and the north of England. Grimm directs attention to a peculiar feature of elf personality. The little creatures disappear, he says, if clothes are given to them. A little sea-dwarf will have none of them, and vanishes when he receives them; a fairy man is given a little red coat, is delighted with it, but disappears. The cauld lad of Hilton, who set himself to determine the good qualities of the servants of Hilton castle, by his tricks and his ways, was himself undone at length through a little green cloak and hood which were laid out for him. He seized them in delight.
said he, and disappeared forever. Milton has enshrined the "lubber-fiend" of the kitchen hearth in LíAllegro.
These stories are fairy tales as distinct from nursery sagas. In these the fairies are the protagonists.
Cinderella. Three hundred and forty-five variants of Cinderella have been found. They are tabulated and discussed in a ponderous volume published by the Folk-Lore Society of London over the signature of Marion Roalfe Cox, with an introduction by Andrew Lang. It is needless to say that the story is an important one and seems to have hanging to its skirts almost every other folk tale of the ages. We cannot here trace the variations, nor do we wish to. We will note only the fact that the version given in the school readers derives from Perrault and not from Grimm. The distinctive marks of Perrault are the fairy god-mother, the pumpkin, the mice, the rat, the lizards, and the little slipper of glass; also the admonition to leave the ball at twelve oíclock, and the forgiveness of the haughty sisters by the gentle Cinderella. Grimmís version is much more primitive, much more of the common people. The neglected little girl weeps over her motherís grave and plants a hazel branch on it, which grows into a tree. From this tree drop down the fine clothes and the slippers embroidered in silk and silver, The German Cinderella does not forgive her sisters, who cut off portions of their feet in trying to prove that they can wear the slipper. Instead of finding forgiveness or success, they have their perfidy revealed and have their eyes plucked out by the pigeons that live in the branches of the hazel tree.
Other versions are still more harsh. Andrew Lang tells us that the Italian Cinderella breaks her step-motherís neck with the lid of a chest.
Perraultís good taste in the promotion of the story is evident. Some antiquarians would find fault with him for bringing the narrative to the drawing-room. Oneís reply can only be that Perrault was not an antiquarian, and that there are drawing-rooms as well as sculleries. It would seem a pity if so good a story should be lost to either place. A further promotion of the narrative is evident in our version. Here the step-mother is lacking. Perrault retained her as a natural folk explanation of the difference in temperament between the sisters and Cinderella. It is a question how far the refinement can go and still leave the central vitality: but it is certain that so long a story lives as everybodyís property, as a folk tale transmitted orally for the larger part of its existence, it will change, antiquarians and recorders notwithstanding.
Hans in Luck is an excellent droll, one of the best of its kind. Grimm took it from Wernicke, who took it from oral tradition. Grimm follows it with the story of Hans Married, which ends in a direct joke. Hans Married, like the stories of Clever Hans, Clever Elsie, and Gambling Hansel, is not so wholesome and does not show so light a touch as does Hans in Luck.
The Queen Bee. The youngest brother in the story of The Queen Bee is Boots again, without Dasentís name for him. His attitude is the same towards nature wherever we find him. Simple faith and thoughtful brotherliness are good traits. They always call out help. The incident of the old man and the stone table with its inscription looks like an importation from the Arabian Nights. The bee-and-the-honey idea is also oriental in its ingenuousness.
The Sister of the Sun and The Flying Ship. Lars of the Lapland folk tale and Ivan of the Russian are both true nursery saga heroes. They are of humble birth. Lars is the son of a gardener and Ivan of a poor couple. They both lived near the palace. They both go on adventures to secure prizes to be brought to the rulers, and each wins a princess to wife after hazardous tasks are performed. Both stories, too, have a myth atmosphere, ample and suggestive. The golden hen that belongs to the Sister of the Sun offers the adherents of the Aryan theory much opportunity for discussion; as well as the foxís blowing out of the candles with the coming of night; the escape of Lars and Princess Sunset over the mountains; the arrival at the castle of Princess Sunrise.
Our school children may remember that Lapland is the country of the Northern Lights. Many little boys and girls up there must have asked questions about that beautiful phenomenon. Some small second-grade pupil in an American class-room might for the pleasure of composition answer them, making up a fanciful explanation in a story starting with the characters in this narrative of the Sister of the Sun; Lars, Princess Sunrise, Princess Sunset, the fox with the great yellow brush of a tail, the golden hens, the giants in their black shadow castle, the little prince, also, left along with his bow and arrows—What did he do?
Where the Lapland story is curtailed the Russian is expanded. Ivan soon attains the flying ship, but his adventures with it and the tasks appointed him when he tries to turn it over to the king, are added. Swift Foot, Sharp Ear, Gobbler, Drinker, and Sure Shot are very likable, clumsy, old giants. The skazki, as the Russian folk tales are called in their own country, are fresher, more naÔve and brilliant than the German. The reason may be that the whole Russian peasantry-to-day is nearer the folk tale way of thinking than is the peasantry of any other northern country producing literature. The good old uncles with the magic straw and the magic wood seem as familiar to us as our own aged Man in the Moon. To-day, certainly, the Czar has his flying ship, and Sure Shot and the man with the magic wood must ride in it.
Why the Sea is Salt is a folk myth, by definition, since it accounts in a fanciful way for a natural phenomenon. The elements of the tale are myth elements historically, also, coming down in the lays of the Poetic Edda and in Snorriís Prose Edda. The story is told also by Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish "historian," who wrote in Latin in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Grottasongr (lay of Grotti) is the lay of the magic mill that would grind out anything one wished. The mill belonged to Frodi, a beneficent king, who ground only peace and plenty. Gold, Frodiís meal, lay about on the highway and in the field unsown. In Snorriís Skaldskaparmal the tale is finished. One day Frodi got from the King of Sweden two giant handmaidens, Fenja and Menja, whom he set to grind the mill. These he gave no rest, compelling them night and day to turn out peace and plenty for his realm; but Frodi had forgotten the nature of the mill, which was to grind what the grinder chose. Now the maidensí hearts had become hot and revengeful. They wished for fire and war. That very night King Mysing the skipper, the sea-rover, Frodiís enemy, came and slew him and seized the maidens and the mill. Mysing, too, was a tyrant towards the maidens. He bade them grind salt. When they wished to stop, he bade them grind on. They ground fast and furiously until the ship sank with them and their tyrant and the mill to the bottom of the ocean.
The homeliness of folk thinking is displayed in the modifications of the story as it went its rounds among the common people orally. Asbjornsen and Moe brought it back into written literature in their collection. Other very ancient myth elements are evident in the story. The people who live down below and want for meat represent old ideas about the place that Asbjornsen and Moe, following the popular vocabulary and mythology, frankly call Hell. To the Norsemen originally Hel was a giant goddess, mistress of nine worlds. She had charge of all those who died unfortunately and not in battle. A bitter cold place hers was, where firewood was needed. Well might the old man with the long white beard stand chopping at the gate.
Inconsistencies in an old story are often explainable by traditions contemporary with the growth of the narrative or antecedent to it. Take the question that some wide-awake boy might ask concerning this tale. If the old mill would grind anything the owner wished, why did not the people who live down below grind out a flitch of bacon rather than demand it of the visitor? And why in the first place were they so anxious for meat? A Norseman in the old days would understand these allusions. In the Halls of the Goddess Hel meat was scarce. The greatest comforts of life were there forbidden, and what more nearly the greatest comfort in a cold country than meat? The general taboo of the place would counteract the particular virtue of the mill.
The Sleeping Beauty. Andrew Lang thinks it useless to try to interpret The Sleeping Beauty throughout as a nature myth, though he admits that the idea of the long sleep may have been derived from the repose of nature in winter. He notices how the story is a patchwork of incidents recurring elsewhere in different combinations. There is an ancient Egyptian narrative with a very similar beginning. The quarrel of the fairies (or the Wise Women, Grimm calls them) is the old discord at the wedding of Peleus, told in folk style. The maidenís sleep and her rescue are, as Grimm boldly asserts and Lang agrees, the wooing of Brunhild by Sigurd from the old Norse saga. The incident of the prick of the spindle has many analogies. Grimm says that the spindle is the sleep-thorn with which Odin pierces Brunhild. Lang calls attention to the poisoned nail and the poisoned comb in other sleep narratives.
The version of the story given in the Second Reader is Grimmís Little Briar Rose with Perraultís title and fairies. The Italian version (in the Pentamarone) and the French version (La Belle an Bois Dormant) are each longer and less pleasant.
One of the old Eddaic lays called Swipdag and Menglod has elements of both the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty stories. The first part of the poem relates how Swipdag, who is in love with the beautiful Menglod, visitís the grave of his dead mother Groa and asks for help (Cinderella). Menglod is guarded in a strong castle (Sleeping Beauty) and is to be married to no one but her destined lover, Swipdag (Day Spring) turns out to be that lover.
Burne-Jones did a series of paintings illustrating Briar Rose.
East oí the Sun and West oí the Moon is one of the most charming folk tales that have come down to us. The title itself is inviting. One could never pass it by without taking up the story. William Morris has turned it into verse in the Earthly Paradise. It is already poetry in its suggestiveness in Asbjornsen, and Moeís collection. Nor is the poetry lost in our version, which is derived from Dasentís translation. For obvious reasons, a number of the incidents are omitted in the reader, but the spirit and flavor of the diction remain, as well as the delightful stimulus of the personification. The trolls are true Norse dramatis persone of folk stories. Bursting is their usual and thrilling exit.
Hansel and Gretel. The little drama of Hansel and Gretel is adapted from a German opera in three acts, the libretto of which was written by Adelheid Wette and the music by Englebert Humperdinck. The piece has the sub-title "A Fairy Opera," justified by the fact that the Sandman and the Dewman bear also the appellations of Sleep Fairy and Dawn Fairy. The characters appearing are the same as in the adaptation, except that the fourteen angels are materialized. Since they are totaled in the prayer situation in full number, some American small boy in counting up their detailed work may discover that two have escaped the adapters, unless 6X2=14.
The opera is of the last century, but the story on which it is founded is ancient and widespread. There are variants in all German dialects and in Italian and French. Maeterlinckís Blue Bird will occur to everyone familiar with modern drama. The allegorical signification is a philosopherís addition. Grimm tells the story in the Hesse version under the title of Hansel and Gretel. A white bird sits on a bough and sings a beautiful song, which arrests the children. They follow the singer until it alights on the roof of a house built of bread and covered with cakes and fitted with windows of clear sugar. Events follow as in the drama but with other incidents prefixed and added.
The beginning of the narrative is the world-old motif of the attempt of a step-mother to be rid of the expense and annoyance of her step-children. Refine the idea as we will, ignore it as we may in these cultivated times, it is yet founded on true psychology. Primitive man everywhere recognized the process of thought and recorded it in his crude way in many stories.
The adaptation of the opera is very spirited and wholesome. Any child would enjoy it.