What modern mother hasn’t cringed at the pink and passive fairy tale princesses served up to her impressionable girl? The Disney versions of Snow White and Cinderella, Belle and Rapunzel are heroines of such vapid foolishness one wonders how they survived into the 21st century. The answer is that they are rooted in a tenacious and remarkably unaltered cultural tradition, the fairy tales first published two centuries ago by the Brothers Grimm.
The fifty iconic tales in their Kinder- und Hausmärchen collection feature a parade of weak, disobedient heroines whose errors draw down harsh punishment, and an equally noteworthy succession of heroic boys. Numerous studies in recent decades have found the 19th century social world they portray so unremittingly sexist that some leading folklorists warn against reading them to children at all.
This is why the discovery of a huge new trove of unedited German fairy tales is nothing short of a revelation. These tales, only of few of which were published in the 1850s, were collected in the Upper Palatinate region of Germany by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, a scholar intent on preserving the rapidly vanishing folk wisdom of his region. What they reveal, in abrupt contrast to the Brothers Grimm, is an equal-opportunity world where the brave and clever children are as likely to be girls as boys, and the vulnerable, exploited youths are not just princesses, but princes…
… Clever, resourceful girls also make an appearance. The Three Princesses tells the story of sisters enslaved by a witch, the youngest of whom saves an unsuspecting prince in an ingenious way. Grabbing a sword, she magically turns herself into a lake, which the old witch sucks down. The princess slashes her way out of the witch’s belly and claims her prince.
From The Economist.
Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.