EVER since the Brothers Grimm in 1812 made for the first time a fairly complete collection of the folk-tales of a definite local or national area in Europe, the resemblance of many of these tales, not alone in isolated incidents but in continuous plots, has struck inquirers into these delightful little novels for children, as the Italians call them (Novelline). Wilhelm Grimm, in the comparative notes which he added to successive editions of the Mährchen up to 1859, drew attention to many of these parallels and especially emphasized the resemblances of different incidents to similar ones in the Teutonic myths and sagas which he and his brother were investigating. Indeed it may be said that the very considerable amount of attention that was paid to the collection of folk tales throughout Europe for the half century between 1840 and 1890 was due to the hope that they would throw some light upon the origins of mythology. The stories and incidents common to all the European field were thought likely to be original mythopoeic productions of the Indo-European peoples just in the same manner as the common roots of the various Aryan languages indicated their original linguistic store.
In 1864 J. G. von Hahn, Austrian Consul for Eastern Greece, in the introduction to his collection of Greek and Albanian folk tales, made the first attempt to bring together in systematic form this common story-store of Europe and gave an analysis of forty folk-tale and saga "formulæ," which outlined the plots of the stories found scattered through the German, Greek, Italian, Servian, Roumanian, Lithuanian, and Indian myth and folk-tale areas. These formulæ were translated and adapted by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould in an appendix to Henderson's Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England (London, 1866), and he expanded them into fifty-two formulæ. Those were the days when Max Müller's solar and lunar explanations of myths were in the ascendant and Mr. Baring-Gould applied his views to the explanation of folk tales. I have myself expanded Hahn's and Baring-Gould's formulæ into a list of seventy-two given in the English Folk-Lore Society's Hand-Book of Folk-Lore, London, 1891 (repeated in the second edition, 1912).
Meanwhile the erudition of Theodor Benfey, in his introduction to the Indian story book, Pantschatantra (Leipzig, 1859), had suggested another explanation of the similarities of European folk-tales. For many of the incidents and several of the complete tales Benfey showed Indian parallels, and suggested that the stories had originated in India and had been transferred by oral tradition to the different countries of Europe. This entirely undermined the mythological theories of the Grimms and Max Müller and considerably reduced the importance of folk tales as throwing light upon the primitive psychology of the Aryan peoples. Benfey's researches were followed up by E. Cosquin who, in the elaborate notes to his Contes de Lorraine, Paris, 1886, largely increased the evidence both for the common European popularity of many of the tales and incidents as well as for the parallels to be found in Oriental collections.
Still a third theory to account for the similarity of folk-tale incidents was started by James A. Farrer and elaborated by Andrew Lang in connection with the general movement initiated by Sir Edward Tylor to explain mythology and superstition by the similar processes of savage psychology at definite stages of primitive culture. In introductions to Perrault and Grimm and elsewhere, Andrew Lang pointed out the similarity of some of the incidents of folk tales--speaking of animals, transference of human feeling to inanimate objects and the like--with the mental processes of contemporary savages. He drew the conclusion that the original composers of fairy tales were themselves in a savage state of mind and, by inference, explained the similarities found in folk tales as due to the similarity of the states of minds. In a rather elaborate controversy on the subject between Mr. Lang and myself, carried through the transactions of the Folk-Lore Congress of 1891, the introduction to Miss Roalfe Cox's "Cinderella," and in various numbers of "Folk-Lore," I urged the improbability of this explanation as applied to the plots of fairy tales. Similar states of mind might account for similar incidents arising in different areas independently, but not for whole series of incidents artistically woven together to form a definite plot which must, I contended, arise in a single artist mind. The similarities in plot would thus be simply due to borrowing from one nation to another, though incidents or series of incidents might be inserted or omitted during the process. Mr. Lang ultimately yielded this point and indeed insisted that he had never denied the possibility of the transmission of complete folk-tale formulæ from one nation and language to another.
During all this discussion as to the causes of the similarity of folk-tale plots no attempt has been made to reconstitute any of these formulæ in their original shape. Inquirers have been content to point out the parallelisms to be found in the various folk-tale collections, and of course these parallelisms have bred and mustered with the growth of the collections. In some cases the parallels have run into the hundreds. (See "Reynard and Bruin.") In only one case have practically all the parallels been brought together in a single volume by Miss Roalfe Cox on Cinderella (Folk-Lore Society Publication for 1893; see notes on "Cinder-Maid"). These variants of incidents obviously resemble the variæ lectiones of MSS. and naturally suggest the possibility of getting what may be termed the original readings. In 1889 the following suggestion was made by Mr. (now Sir) James G. Frazer in an essay on the "Language of Animals," in the Archæological Review, i., p. 84:
"In the case of authors who wrote before the invention of printing, scholars are familiar with the process of comparing the various MSS. of a single work in order from such a comparison to reconstruct the archetype or original MS., from which the various existing MSS. are derived. Similarly in Folk-Lore, by comparing the different versions of a single tale, it may be possible to arrive, with tolerable certainty, at the original story, of which the different versions are more or less imperfect and incorrect representations."
Independently of Sir James Frazer's suggestion, which I have only recently come across, I have endeavoured in the present book to carry it out as applied to a considerable number of the common formulas of European folk-tales, and I hope in a succeeding volume to complete the task and thus give to the students of the folk-tale as close approach as possible to the original form of the common folk-tales of Europe as the materials at our disposal permit.
My procedure has been entirely similar to that of an editor of a text. Having collected together all the variants, I have reduced them to families of types and from these families have conjectured the original concatenation of incidents into plot. I have assumed that the original teller of the tale was animated by the same artistic logic as the contemporary writers of Contes (see notes on "Cinder-Maid," "Language of Animals"), and have thus occasionally introduced an incident which seemed vital to the plot, though it occurs only in some of the families of the variants. My procedure can only be justified by the success of my versions and their internal coherence. As regards the actual form of the narrative, this does not profess to be European but follows the general style of the English fairy tale, of which I have published two collections (English Fairy Tales, 1890; More English Fairy Tales, 1894).
In the following notes I have not wasted space on proving the European character of the various tales by enumerating the different variants, being content for the most part to give references to special discussions of the story where the requisite bibliography is given. With the more serious tales I have rather concerned myself with trying to restore the original formula and to establish its artistic coherence. Though I have occasionally discussed an incident of primitive character, I have not made a point of drawing attention to savage parallels, nor again have I systematically given references to the appearance of whole tales or separate incidents in mediæval literature or in the Indian collections. For the time being I have concentrated myself on the task of getting back as near as possible to the original form of the fairy tales common to all Europe. Only when that has been done satisfactorily can we begin to argue as to the causes or origin of the separate items in these originals. It must, of course, always be remembered that, outside this common nucleus, each country or linguistic area has its own story-store, which is equally deserving of special investigation by the serious student of the folk-tale. I have myself dealt with some of these non-European or national folk-tales for the English, Celtic and Indian areas and hope in the near future to treat of other folk-tale districts, like the French, the Scandinavian, the Teutonic or the Slavonian.
I had gone through three-quarters of the tales and notes contained in the present book before I became acquainted with the modestly named Anmerkungen zu Grimm's Mährchen, 2 vols., 1913-15, by J. Bolte and E. Polivka. This is one of those works of colossal erudition of which German savants alone seem to have the secret. It sums up the enormous amount of research that has been going on in Europe for the last hundred years, on the parallelism and provenance of the folk-tales of Europe, and in a measure does for all the Grimm stories what Miss Roalfe Cox did for Cinderella. Only two volumes have as yet appeared dealing with the first 120 numbers of the Grimm collection in over a thousand pages crammed with references and filled with details as to variants. The book has obviously been planned and worked out by Dr. Bolte, who had previously edited the collected works of his chief predecessor, R. Koehler. Dr. Polivka's contribution mainly consists in the collection and collation of the Slavonic variants, which are here made accessible for the first time. I therefore refer to the volume henceforth by Dr. Bolte's name. The book is indispensable for the serious students of the folk-tale, and would have saved me an immense amount of trouble if I had become acquainted with it earlier.
In thirty-eight or nearly a third of the tales Dr. Bolte gives a formula, or radicle, summing up the "common form" of the story, and I am happy to find that in those cases, which occur in the early part of the present volume, my own formulæ, agree with his, though of course for the purposes of this book I have had to go into more detail. Dr. Bolte has not as yet expounded any theory of the origin of the Folk Tale, but, with true scientific caution, judges each case on its merits. But his whole treatment assumes the organic unity of each particular formula, and one cannot conceive him regarding the similarities of the tales as due to similar mental workings of the folk mind at a particular stage of social development.
Finally, I should perhaps explain that in my selection of typical folk-tales for the present volume, I have included not only those which could possibly be traced back to real primitive times and mental conditions, like the "Cupid and Psyche" formula, but others of more recent date and composition, provided they have spread throughout Europe, which is my criterion. For instance "Beauty and the Beast" in its current shape was composed in the eighteenth century, but has found its place in the story-store of European children. A couple, like "Androcles and the Lion" and "Day Dreaming," owe a similar spread to literary communication even though in the latter case it is the popular literature of the Arabian Nights. These must be regarded as specimens only of a large class of stories that are found among the folk and can be traced in the popular mediæval collections like Alfonsi's Disciplina-Clericalis or Jacques de Vitry's Exempla, not to speak of the Fables of Bidpai or The Seven Wise Masters of Rome. These form quite a class by themselves and though they have come to be in many cases Folk-Lore of European spread, they differ in quality from the ordinary folk-tale which is characterized by its tendency to variation as it passes from mouth to mouth. Still one has to recognize that they are now European and take their place among the folk and for that reason I have given a couple of specimens of them, but of course my main attention has been directed to attempting to reconstruct the original form of the true folk-tale from the innumerable variants now current among the folk.