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Some resources to re-create life in eighth century Europe: Letters. Annals. Contemporary biographies. Laws. Scholarly books and papers. Archaeology. Ethnography. Poetry. Art. And of course, fairy tales.

Yes, I said fairy tales. Actually, I prefer to call the 19th century stories collected by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm folk tales. Most of us know the Disney-fied versions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. But when you read the unvarnished tales, complete with gruesome forms of justice, they become more than entertainment. They open a window to culture and belief.

You learn that Germanic folk saw the forest as otherworldly. They feared the elves would steal their children and leave a changeling and that a water nixie would trick them into giving her their child.

They also provide glimpses of religions that are now lost to us. We find clues to a deity the Continental Saxons worshipped in the story of Mother Holle and the way she rewarded industrious girls and punished lazy ones.

So I was really glad to see an article in The Guardian about 500 fairy tales newly discovered in Regensburg, Germany. They were collected by  Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, a contemporary of the Grimm brothers, and many of the stories, such as “The Turnip Princess,” have not been told elsewhere.

Von Schönwerth collected the stories from country folk, laborers, and servants in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz. He compiled his research into three volumes, published in 1857, 1858, and 1859. A selection of stories has been republished, but unfortunately for this American, they are in German.

I hope someday more tales will be translated into English and give us more windows on a time long ago. Folk tales, poems, and art preserve a culture. They are priceless.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Jacob (right) and Wilhelm Grimm in an 1855 portrait by Jerichau Baumann (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain image)

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