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Falsches Spiel: Roman (German Edition)
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Customer Service. Similarly, with the complexity of a novel, we find the vigorous tales of Giambattista Basile which appeared in Naples in the sixteen-thirties. The Cinderella or indeed The Sleeping Beauty of the Italian writer to select two well-known fairy stories are tales of some intensity in which fearful murder, plain but strangely committed marital infidelity, and horrible—but ultimately thwarted—child murder all play a considerable part.
Cinderella is induced to kill her first stepmother by her second, and even more evil one; while the Sleeping Beauty is seduced in her sleep by a king who is already married. She gives birth to twins and is finally woken up through their hungry nuzzling for food. Even Charles Perrault , who was the first to tell fairy stories to children themselves, cannot quite shake off an inclination towards the courtly novel wrapped up with political ethics.
And yet The Thousand and One Nights and Charles Perrault are the most distinguished ancestors of the fairy story as it was created by the nineteenth century—and created then indeed for children. With the flowering of the novel in the nineteenth century it was natural that the fairy story should increasingly become reading-matter for children only, in spite of the great artistic impetus given by Romanticism to fairy-tale literature, which got so full of wit, satire, poetry, and fantasy that only very clever adults could fully grasp its merit.
Indeed, with the growth of the children's book of today, where boys and girls are told stories of events which could actually happen to them, the fairy story has been relegated to those young children who have stories read to them or who battle their way painfully through the undergrowth of the printed page. This age group is designated by teachers and librarians the 'fairy-story age' and by this means, especially in German-speaking areas, a limitation is imposed which has an impoverishing effect throughout the whole of children's literature.
People forget that often older children, particularly girls, take a natural delight in fairy stories and that they only fully appreciate the richness of certain stories, for example those of Andersen, when they have outgrown the so-called 'fairy-story age'. The chief point of difference between fairy stories and other tales is to be found in their apparatus of fantastic happenings such as marvels, spells, and strange transmogrifications, all of which give rise to boundless possibilities.
Why should these be confined to the world of little children and cease to exist in that of the nine- or ten-year-old, giving way to the stories of everyday reality?
Heidi was one of the first and most famous books of this latter kind, a combination of human and poetic insight which was written in so simple and homely a style that it conquered the hearts of children immediately. If only it had not found so many imitators! Once the way had been paved the German-speaking peoples could not get away from it, although in more northerly countries, particularly England and Scandinavia, the lore of fairy tale with its daring possibilities penetrated the whole of children's literature, even in those age groups for whom claims to higher stylistic and intellectual appreciation are made.
Now what are the characteristic features of the fairy tale? One of its fundamental qualities is its narrative flow, which stems from its very origin in the spoken word. A second quality is that these tales for telling must be both true and not true at the same time. They must contain an inner truth which keeps them viable even though the path of the story can be anything but true, which is to say that magic and mystery are midwives to the impossible.
The difficulties of ordinary life can be overcome by extraordinary means and through improbable powers, such as seven-league boots, prophetic insight or cunning , escape into invisibility, or else through the helpful support of such spirits as dwarfs, elves, and giants. That witches, man-eaters, and evil stepmothers also belong to the powerful forces who keep the action of fairy stories on the move has brought the genre into disrepute among the modern educationists and has tempted the psychologists into many curious speculations.
But at the same time it contains other elements which appeal deeply to the hearts of children: the feeble father's hidden love for his children, their own affection for each other, even in the extremities of starvation, the solitude of the wood at night, and the allurement of the gingerbread house.
The wonderful thing about them is that they express so perfectly every nation's feeling for fairy stories. Fairy stories truly embody an 'international' European literature such as is only possible in other branches of writing through the increased activities of translators. That this should be so may be accounted for by the great power of conviction which fairy-tale figures carry with them and by their ancient principles of action, which express the primitive and unconscious needs of the human heart. As a rule it is the prospect of saving something from extinction which inspires the activity of collectors.
This is the case with fairy stories to a high degree, for the spread of printing and the recession of illiteracy in Europe increasingly brought about the disappearance of story-tellers, who gained their living from the demands made upon their traditional function. This was the situation which confronted Charles Perrault and, a hundred years later, the Brothers Grimm. Today, years on from them, story-tellers still miraculously exist in lonely mountain valleys, in iso-lated villages of Yugoslavia, Greece, or Asia Minor , even though to a growing extent they mingle elements of modern life with their ancient traditional tales.
The great collections of folk-tales which are now being established in almost every country are mostly museums of fairy-lore. Not so the stories of the Brothers Grimm, however. For reasons which it is almost impossible to explain, they managed to find the precise combination of respect for tradition and free personal expression which was necessary to give their collection its freshness, redolent of neither the study nor the glass-case and timeless as only a few works of great literature.
The enormous importance of this collection, however, did not reside solely in the consequences which followed upon its rediscovery of an ancient national heritage.
It also immeasurably furthered the influence which the common elements of the fairy tale would have on the whole of children's literature from this time forward. At this stage it is probably worth while to describe briefly those few cornerstones which support the superstructure of the European fairy tale—a meeting-place where you will find witches, dwarfs and elves, princes and princesses, kings and magicians, wood-cutters and ragged children, sympathetic doves and talking storks, good and even wicked fairies, all together in a peaceable assembly.
In this book we have to deal with a long series of fairy stories which, so far as we know, found their way into manuscript in Arabia round about The provenance of some stories, however, leads back to Persia and even to India. Furthermore, the theme of the princess saving herself by telling stories existed for so long in this form that The Thousand and One Nights takes its place within a long written tradition. Thus, so far as the older civilization of the East was concerned, the committing of these stories to writing was an act corresponding to our own in the nineteenth century, when writers settled the form of fairy-tale literature for those who should succeed them.
In this way we received the ancient and mighty narrative traditions of the East, with all their overtones of oriental manners and contemplativeness.
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Galland's first translation was followed by countless others in almost every country in Europe. In passing, we should note the strong supposition that the Italians knew of the stories beforehand, since Basile's fairy tales, whose basic material came from the common people, nevertheless show some astonishing similarities. Often many of those who retold the stories sought to suppress the more racy passages, inseparable from descriptions of harem life, but deemed unsuitable for European sensibilities.
On the other hand, some editions turned these into the big attraction. But none of them could eradicate entirely the scent of eastern musk, the unbridled passion, the delicate and intricate filigree of the stories' construction, and thereby many of their other oriental charms. Many great illustrators of the last two hundred years down to the immediate present have made their attempts on these stories and have served to formulate our ideas of the East more than any of the other volumes of travellers' tales.
Among the German writers of fairy stories it is quite impossible to think of, say, Hauff without this literary inheritance. But even Andersen, as a small boy in his father's cobbler's shop, had these stories read to him as part of a common inheritance. Later he was to follow the attraction which had been aroused by this childhood experience and take a journey to the Near East. Whoever reads his diaries of this journey, his fairy stories or his Picture-book without pictures will find in the work of this northern story-teller astonishing echoes of the oriental themes which he first heard in The Thousand and One Nights.
Europe's earliest fairy stories to be set down on paper are without doubt the Piacevoli notti of Giovan Francesco Straparola, in which recognizable fairy-story themes appear for the first time. The Italian folk-story, however, reveals itself in all its abundance in the book by Giambattista Basile— Lo cunto de li cunti —which first appeared in the Neapolitan dialect in five parts between and Basile, who was born around , was a soldier of fortune who occupied himself at the courts of various Italian princes in some very varied roles. He wrote odes, eclogues, and all kinds of courtly poetry in the affected manner of his times.
He was a member of numerous academies, among which was one of the largest in his native Naples: the Otiosi or 'Lazybones' Academy, and he named himself 'Pigro'—the sloth. But he also possessed something rare among the courtiers of his time: a sense of justice, an integrity and a feeling for the needs and the dignity of the Neapolitan people. In order to give expression to this he recited and wrote down his fairy stories in his native dialect. As Grimm and Perrault were to do later, he used for his foundation the, in parts, very primitive and entirely oral traditional tales which the women of the district told to their children.
These fairy stories were only printed after Basile's death in , a good sixty years before Perrault's collection. As with Perrault's tales, these also are in no way a collection of items of folk-lore copied down straight from the mouths of the story-tellers. They are rather an expression of the powerful Baroque Age, which still lives for us in its marvellous pictures and which cannot see the sun rise without personifying it and having it sweep out the morning sky with a golden broom. Basile's portrayals of nature are always full of this kind of personal life, even where they stand as allegories or as symbols, while the action is dramatic, often bloody or full of complicated intrigue, but always reaching its climax in the triumph of right.
Unnecessary decorative details are rarely found, but on the other hand, the dialogue is witty, full of allusion, and without concessions to the prudish. This above all is Basile's instrument for conveying the truth to his age. While it cannot be denied that Basile obtained the framework of his stories from the women of his immediate locality, just as Perrault and the Grimms were to do in their time, the audience for the humane and humorous 'Pigro' of the Lazybones' Academy was composed of intelligent men—'all fellows at the same club', as we might say today. Certainly, therefore, he did not tell them fairy stories, although he wove in many threads from these.
Even so we already find noted down here such tales as Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty , just as there are clues pointing to sources in the Near East.
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Especially notable among these is the way the stories are arranged within a story about a treacherous Moorish slave-girl, whose wickedness is finally revealed so that the virtuous and patient princess finally gains her rightful reward. This firm framework holding the book together is found neither in Perrault nor in Grimm, but Jakob Grimm saw in Basile over the gulf of two hundred years a comrade of similar aims and helped him to his delayed fame in Northern Europe, writing an introduction to the first edition of his works in German in In Italy itself the finest translation of the book into modern Italian was by Benedetto Croce , who saw in it not just a collection of popular tales but 'the finest book of the Italian baroque'.
It has, in common with the two most famous fairy-tale collections which followed it, a naturalness and freshness which have lasted to our own times. Where wit and effervescent imagination are concerned, Basile's tales are inexhaustible and contain some ingredients so bizarre as to be seldom found elsewhere. Perhaps the most felicitous of these occurs in the scene in the bedroom when the heart of a sea-dragon is brought to the boil and the steam spreads pregnancy throughout the room; not only for the cook but also for the utensils and the furniture, so that the bedstead acquires a baby bed, the big chairs little chairs, and the chamber-pot a baby chamber-pot.
Such an ingenious animation of lifeless objects is only found again in Andersen. Charles Perrault — may not have been the first to write down fairy tales but he was the first writer of consequence to recognize that they belonged to the world of children.
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The whole of the vivid, power-flaunting seventeenth century was not unsympathetic to simplicity and straightforwardness, which were precisely the qualities of fairy tales. Telling them, however, was the occupation of women. It is said of Le Roi Soleil that when he was a little boy in the forties of that century he could not go to sleep without the fairy tales which the ladies-in-waiting used to tell him.
At the end of the century such tales, racily adapted by the ladies who told them, were paraded in the elegant salons of the Parisian aristocracy. For in doing such a thing he was likely to have become very conspicuous. Retiringly, therefore, he had the book registered for privilege under the name of his son, Pierre d'Armancour, a fact which the most recent research has converted into a suspicion that the seventeen-year-old boy could have been the actual author. This would provide an explanation for the extraordinarily youthful freshness of the book which conquered in a trice the world of children who had never before possessed anything so much their own.