Quick! List two famous surnames you associate with fairy tales. Got them? I can probably guess. The two names that tend to round up our collective knowledge of fairy tale authors and compilers are comprised of (drum roll)... Grimm and Anderson! Step aside, boys. There's a new player in town, and his name is Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. (I will award bonus points to any dear reader who conjured the name Perrault, you renegade).
Schönwerth was a 19th century Bavarian scholar who collected folklore in its purist form, without the sanding down of the gross (piles of manure), the bawdy (men who could look at a woman and make her pregnant), and the violence (who needs their heads?) that the Grimm brothers preferred to leave out (think of the children!). He collected the tales for fellow researchers, and in 2012 Erika Eichenseer dug Schönwerth’s work out of the Regensburg Archive. The tales have already been published in single installments in German, but now Maria Tatar, chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, has compiled an English translation of the tales.
The book, published this past Wednesday by Penguin Books, is titled The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, and it's a glorious present for fairy tale aficionados. Laura Miller interviewed Tatar on the new collection for Altarnet, and Tatar shares how the book is a stark departure from our terra cognita of evil step-mothers, damsels in distress, and princes on call for rescue. In fact, Schönwerth presents us with a topsy-turvy fairy land where Cinderella is Cinderelliot, and fathers lose the benevolent wise-man reverence afforded to them by the Grimm brothers at the expense of women (who always seem to be causing problems in the world of the Grimms - if ladies aren't getting kidnapped or eaten, they're prepping a poison for someone who has it coming, like their own kid. I'd suggest someone call Freud, but Bruno Bettelheim already did). Tatar tells Miller:
"Schönwerth just refuses to homogenize the stories, and so you find that there’s a lot more gender bending in Schönwerth."
Something we at Fiction Unbound like to talk about over flaming jello shots is the legacy of folklore and its relevance to our modern lives. With less slurring than our own weekend discussions involve, Tatar eloquently states:
What I really love about fairy tales is that they get us talking about matters that are just so vital to us. I think about the story of Little Red Riding Hood and how originally it was about the predator-prey relationship, and then it becomes a story about innocence and seduction for us. We use that story again and again to work out these very tough issues that we have to face. My hope is that this volume will get people talking about not just the stories and the plot but the underlying issues.
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The Sleeper & the Spindle is a richly illustrated modern fairy tale that blends the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White into an almost unrecognizable retelling. Neil Gaiman has tackled the subject of sleeping and dreams before, but what he hasn’t done previously, is concoct a fairy tale retelling that speaks directly to children as much as adults, with veiled Grimm-like warnings about the trouble with misbehaving. In this retelling, though, the ones misbehaving are the elders.