down and dirty fairy tales

How this rediscovered stash of darker-than-Grimm stories destroys our Prince Charming myths

The translator of a newly discovered trove of 150-year-old tales on the gender-bending surprises found there

article by Laura Miller | via Salon

brothersgrimm
The fairytales were collected by historian Franz Xaver von Schonwerth in the 1800s – around the same time the Brothers Grimm were writing tales such as the Town Musicians of Bremen, shown in a sketch by Carl Offterdinger in 1829. via Daily Mail

In 2012, readers around the world were intrigued to learn that a researcher in northern Bavaria had discovered hundreds of never-published fairy- and folktales collected by the 19th-century folklorist Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. Working just a few decades after the Brothers Grimm, Schönwerth considered scholars his natural audience, and as a result the tales he recorded are bawdier, racier and significantly more scatological than the collection the Grimms published under the title “Children’s and Household Tales.” Everyone knows that the Grimms’ fairy tales are much darker than the cleaned-up Disney versions, but with Schönwerth’s, the action gets even more down-to-earth.

Erika Eichenseer, who ferreted Schönwerth’s finds out of the Regensburg Archives, has been publishing single and collected tales in German over the past few years, but now at last there’s an English translation of more than 70 of them, published this week by Penguin Books as “The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales.” Maria Tatar, chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University and distinguished editor of such books as “The Annotated Brothers Grimm,” took on the tricky task of rendering 19th-century Bavarian folklore into modern English. I spoke with Tatar recently to find out more about treasures that await readers of “The Turnip Princess” and the surprising ways they upend our long-standing notions of the roles of heroes and heroines in some of Europe’s oldest and most popular stories.

Can you tell me about how these manuscripts were found? Many people seem to think [folklorist] Erika Eichenseer just discovered a box with a trove of them in it, but that’s not how it really happened, is it?

Erika unearthed hundreds of these stories in the [Municipal Archive of Regensburg] as a result of laborious archival research. She published some of them serially, or brought them to light, in Germany. A collection was published a few years ago in German. I included some of the stories in that collection in the Penguin edition. But there are also these additional stories that she’s uncovered over the past few years.

What is their historical or scholarly significance?

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