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  • Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies
  • Christine Goldberg
Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies. By Jan M. Ziolkowski. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Pp. 500, introduction, appendix in five parts, notes, bibliography, general index, index of tale types and motifs.)

Conceived as a way to present Medieval Latin literature in a manner congenial to "today's culture" (p. 1), Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales offers a selection of thirteen examples of Medieval Latin poetry from AD 1000 to AD 1200 that include motifs or tale types now present in popular culture. Two of these so-called fairy tales are "tales of magic" (ATU 300-749). The others are mostly tall tales or trickster tales in the "anecdotes and jokes" section of the tale type index.

Five chapters, revised from their earlier publication as individual articles, are each devoted to a tale type. The first tale, represented in modern popular culture by Pinocchio's sojourn in the stomach of a whale, tells of a fisherman rescued from a whale's stomach, his skin burned and his eyes damaged. Other analogs include the Biblical account of Jonah, one of the adventures of the Baron Munchausen (ATU 1889G), and a modern account in the Believe-It-or-Not vein.

The second chapter concerns a possible ancestor form of Little Red Riding Hood (ATU 333), part of a poem by Egbert of Liège well-known to folktale scholarship at least since 1913, when the relevant section was quoted in full by Bolte and Polìvka (Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm, Vol. 1 [Notes to the Grimm Brothers' Tales for Children and the Household], Dieterich, 1913, [End Page 360] p. 236). A girl is given a red tunic by her godfather at her baptism; while wearing it, she is captured by a wolf, but its cubs are unable to harm her. Is this an analogue of Little Red Riding Hood (as Ziolkowski claims, pp. 107-13), or are the red clothes unimportant and the wolf abduction best understood as an example of a popular legend (as Paul Delarue and Marianne Rumpf concluded)? Egbert wrote some 675 years before Little Red Riding Hood first appeared (1697); perhaps the solution is that an ancestor form need not be an analogue.

The modern analogue for the third chapter is "Little Claus and Big Claus," one of Hans Christian Andersen's tales that is closely based on a folktale (ATU 1535). This trickster tale consists of several episodes in which a poor man outwits, humiliates, and usually kills a rich rival (his neighbor or brother). The medieval poem is "Unibos" (One-Ox), named after the poor brother who has only one ox. Ziolkowski devotes one appendix to examples of the tale type and another to a group of tall tales, most of which come from a medieval manuscript, Carmina Cantabrigiensia (Cambridge Songs), of which he published an edition with translation (Garland, 1994). This chapter discusses social commentary in tales that contain deception as a narrative theme. In contrast to the tales of the rescued sailor and the unharmed child, which were intended to impress and amaze, the belief in miracles is mocked here.

The last two tales, which Jacob Grimm found in a Latin manuscript in Strasbourg, are often cited as examples of the Grimms' casual attitude toward oral tradition. In the Turnip Tale (ATU 1689A), as in One-Ox, a poor brother gets the better of his rich brother and then outwits a credulous scholar. The Donkey Tale (ATU 430) is an animal bridegroom story told from the man's point of view. Interestingly, this tale has links to Asia: one of the analogues printed here comes from the Sanskrit Vikramacarita (Vikrama's Adventures), and there is another example, where the man takes the form of a snake, in the Panchatantra.

The evidence in this book is pertinent to some very important questions about folktales. How old are they? How have they changed over time or in their travels from one place to another? The same questions apply both to individual tale...


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