Once Upon a time . . .:
The Great Collections
of Traditional Fairy Tales

Our great heritage of tales is due in part to the work of those who collected and published collections of folktales. From these collections have come numerous editions and retellings of their tales. Below are collections now in print. Linked to these pages are pages of online resources for those searching for or researching these wonderful stories.

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm The household tales of Germany

The very phrase "Fairy Tales" will immediately conjure up the Brother's Grimm: Jacob Ludwid Carl Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786-1859). The Grimm brothers were German Scholars and philologists who began gathering household tales and folktales initially to study the German language. In 1812, the year their fairy tales were first published, the Grimms were surviving on a single meal a day. Between 1821 and 1822 the brothers raised extra money by collecting three volumes of folktales. Altogether some forty persons delivered tales to the Grimms. Not intended for children when first published (1812-14), and generally little noticed and criticized as boorish in literary circles - they were enthusiastically received by the public in German and abroad, with an English translation illustrated by George Cruikshank in 1823. In their collaboration Wilhelm, who was the more imaginative and literary of the two, selected and arranged the stories, while Jacob was responsible for the scholarly work.

Both brothers were linguists who specialized in historical linguistics, primarily investigating the language of Old High German. The brothers were affected by German Romanticism and its interest in mythology, folklore and dreams.Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm argued that folktales should be collected from oral sources, which aimed at genuine reproduction of the original story. Their method became model for other scholars. However, in practice their tales were modified. In later editions of the fairytales, Wilhelm's editing and literary aspiration were more prominent. He continued to reshape the tales up to the final seventh edition of 1857 - he also removed any hint of sexual activity (especially of incest or pre-marital), such as the premarital couplings of Rapunzel and the prince who climbed into her tower, and toned down the violence a little, such as the fate of the Queen in Snow White. However, the cores of the stories were left untouched.

They lived at Kassel until 1829, when, perhaps motivated political necessity, they moved to the nearby University of Göttingen, where they were given appointments as librarians and professors. During this period in 1835, Jacob Grimm wrote German Mythology, which was widely acclaimed. Jacob Grimm attempted to use peasant poetry, fairy tales, and mythology to reconstruct the pre-Christian religion o[f the Germanic people. The Grimm brothers were dismissed from their positions at Göttingen when Ernest Augustus, duke of Cumberland, became king of Hanover in 1837. Feeling that the constitution of 1833 was too liberal, the new King repealed it and dismissed the Grimms after they (along with five other professors later called the "Göttingen Seven") sent him a note explaining their loyalty to the old constitution. In 1840, after a number of years in exile, they accepted an invitation from the king of Prussia, Frederick William IV, to go to Berlin and became members of the Royal Academy of Sciences. While there they started the German Dictionary, a guide for the user of the written and spoken word as well as a scholarly reference work. Such an ambitious endeavor, the work was never completed during their lifetime. During what later were called the Berlin years, the brothers were very productive, writing many of their influential works.

Andrew Lang - The Coloured Fairy Books (From many places)

Andrew Lang (1844-1912) was a Scottish man of letters (i.e., he wrote for a living --- literary criticism, fiction, poems, articles, travelogues, as well as children's stories) and a reteller of traditional tales. He brought about the return to respectability for imaginative traditional tales in Victorian England. He published The Nursery Rhyme Book (1897), children's tellings of the epic stories of Greece and Troy (1907), the Arabian Knights (1898), and tales of King Arthur. He also made a contribution to literature by discovering and encouraging such authors such as E. Nesbit, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle, and influenced many others such as Arthur Ransome.

Lang is best known, however, for his twelve Colored Fairy Books, beginning with The Blue Fairy Book in 1889, most of which were illustrated by H.J. Ford. Lang drew on folktales from a large number of countries (Germany, India, Iceland, Turkey, Greece, France, Denmark, and Russia. Ironically, he did not write the stories in his Coloured Fairy Books series, but rather oversaw the gathering of the work of others, in particular, his wife Leonora Blanche Alleyne Lang, who gathered, translated tales and revised tales from many cultures. It should be noted that he heavily editted the tales to remove what he considered offensive elements for children. The immense popularity of each volume seemed to demand another. And as the books increased, harder-to-locate tales were sought out. Unfortunately he does not give information regarding his sources. Dover Press has kept the twelve Fairy books in print.

Joseph Jacobs - English/ Irish Folktales (1854 - 1916)

Joseph Jacobs was born in Sydney in 1854, but soon emigrated to England and the USA. He was a preminent scholar and literay critic, and published many books on Jewish history and tradition, but nowadays he is best remembered for his contribution to children's literature. From 1889 to 1900 he edited Folk-Lore, the journal of the Folk-Lore Society. He compiled several collections of fairy tales and edited scholarly editions of Aesop's fables (1889) and the Thousand and One Nights (6 vol., 1896). In 1890 he published a collection of legends and fairy tales under the title English Fairy Tales, where you can find well-known stories like Tom Tit Tot, The Story of Three Little Pigs, Tom Thumb or Jack and the Beanstalk. Jacobs went on to compile five more volumes of English, Celtic, Indian, and European folktales and stories, as well as a version of The Fables of Aesop and The Thousand and One Nights Other famous stories that he published are Henny-Penny, The Story of three Bears, Molly Whuppie, Lazy Jack, Johnny Cake and Master of all Masters. Jacobs books were illustrated by his friend, John. D. Batten, a lesser known, but quite capable illustrator whose clarity of style, excellent choice of topics and use of humorous images really stands out, as does his "Celtic style".

In 1900 he went to the United States to edit a revision of The Jewish Encyclopedia. He was later a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and editor of the American Hebrew. His major contributions to Jewish history include Jews of Angevin England (1893), An Inquiry into the Sources of the History of the Jews in Spain (1894), and Jewish Contributions to Civilization (1919), an incomplete fragment. His Story of Geographical Discovery (1899) went through a number of editions.

Other Collections of English/ Irish Tales:

Aleksandr Afanas'ev (or Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev) (1826-1871) (Russia)

The folklore of Russia is rich and beautiful - the stories of Vasilisa the Fair, Prince (or poor) Ivan, Ivan the Terrible, Father Frost, Baga Yaga, and evil Koshchei the deathless are just a small part of a rich tradition of characters and stories. Some have been turned into high art, music and dance - such as the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) and The Firebird.

It was Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) who first realized the artistic value of these prose tales - though he knew the tales thoroughly and recorded many of them, he turned to the Arabian Nights, Grimm or Washington Irving for his poetry. But it was Afanas'ev who would created the primary written collection of Russian folklore, and along with it some controversy. Mostly self educated---as a youngster he would sneak into the family library inherited from his grandfather for hours of secret reading. Trained as a lawyer at Moscow University he was removed from a teaching position there in 1848, when he argued with an inspector of the Ministry of Education over a lecture he gave. Finding a archival position in the Ministry of Foriegn Affairs, in 1850, he began to have an interest in Slavic and Russian Mythology and folklore. Between 1855 and 1866, Afanas'ev, who is often referred to as the Russian equivalent of the brothers Grimm, combed the collections of the Russian Geographical Society and the ethnographical work of Vladimir Dahl for 640 folktales, which were published in eight installments between 1855 and 1866. His collection would inspire writers---Tolstoy, Dostoevskiy, and Ostrovskiy; and composers---Stavinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. One of the best known illustrators of his tales is Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942).

The controversies were over Afanas'ev's methods of recording, study and classification of popular narratives. He sometimes constructed a single text from several varients, didn't always record sources, and paid scant attention to from whom and from where a story orginated, and had romantic theories of language and lore. But he believed in fidelity to exact words, pronunciations and the manner of speech of individual storytellers. Then too, some of the material he recorded was banned as too bawdy or erotic, or considered inappropriate because it ridiculed the Tsar or the Russian orthodox clergy to be openly published. Nevertheless, the collection is a rich source of stories which has been further explored in translations by Arthur Ransome, James Riordan and others, with The Frog Princess, Marya Moryena, The Swan Geese, The Snow Maiden, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship and A Feather of Finist the Bright Falcon.

Richard Francis Burton (1850-1899): Scherazade and the 1001 Arabian Nights

Sir Richard Francis Burton (March 19, 1821 - Oct. 20, 1890) was an English explorer, linguist, author, and soldier. In 1853, Burton traveled to Cairo, Suez, and the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. Burton made an 1854 journey to the forbidden East African city of Harar (Harer). He was disguised as an Arab pilgrim and spoke excellent Arabic. (Europeans were not allowed in Arabian holy cities; they were executed if they were caught.) In 1855, Burton and three companions (including John Hanning Speke and two other officers of the British East India Company) began an unsuccessful trip in search of the source of the White Nile; one member of the expedition was killed in an attack by Africans, and Speke and Burton were injured. After a stint as a soldier in the Crimean War, Burton returned to Africa (1857-58) with Speke in order to renew their search. After much hardship, they made it to Lake Tanganyika (they were the first Europeans to see it). Speke continued on to the lake that Speke later named Lake Victoria, the biggest lake in Africa (Burton was too ill, suffering from malaria). Speke realized (correctly) that Lake Victoria was the White Nile's source, but Burton did not agree - their long friendship ended over this disagreement. Burton was appointed consul in Trieste, Austria-Hungary (now a part of Italy), in 1872. In Trieste, he wrote and translated extensively. Burton is well-known for his translation of the 16 volumes of "The Tales of the Arabian Nights" and other Eastern books. Illustration of the Arabian Nights has included many artists including Arthur Boyd Houghton, Kay Neilsen,Max Parrish and many others. Burton also wrote 43 volumes about his travels. Burton was knighted by Queen Victoria in February, 1886 . He died on Oct. 20, 1890, in Trieste.

Many of Burton's stories were on sexual themes. Burton was the principal translator of several works which, in order to sidestep obscenity laws, he issued "privately" and, ostensibly, abroad. Among these were : "The Kama Sutra of Vatsayana", 1883 (the classic Hindu sex manual); "The Book of the Thousands Nights and a Night", 1883-1888; "The Perfumed Garden"; "A Manual of Arabian Erotology", 1886: and other works, all of which bore imprints such as : "Printed for the Karma Shastra Society for Private Subscribers Only, Benares." Upon his death, his widow Lady Isabel Burton, destroyed all his remaining private diaries and most of his everyday journals, many private letters and papers, and the notes for a revised edition of "The Perfumed Garden", which he referred to as "The Second Garden."

Moe and Asbjørnsen and the Folk Tales of Norway

Peter Christian Asbjørnsen (1812–85) and Jorgen Moe (1813-1882) were the "Brothers Grimm" of Scandinavia. They collected stories in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In their collection of fifty-nine tales are stories like East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Cat on the Dovrefell, Boots, Why the Sea is Salt, The Husband who was to mind the House, The Princess on the Glass Hill, and Tatterhood---a rich collection of stories of the North. Asbjørnsen was a Norwegian folklorist, writer, and naturalist. Norwegian Folk Stories (4 vol., 1841–44), which he collected with the poet Jørgen Moe, his friend from school days, was acclaimed throughout Europe for its contribution to comparative folklore and literature. In 1845 he published the first series of his Norwegian Fairy Stories and Folk Legends. English translations of his works include Popular Tales from the Norse (tr. 1858) and Fairy Tales from the Far North (tr. 1897). Asbjørnsen was a forester for many years and wrote numerous scholarly papers on the natural sciences.

As Asbjørnsen and Moe traveled from village to village in the 1840s, in every place they stopped they would ask one of the locals to tell a fairy tale, and then the two writers would write down the story. But they encountered a problem: The stories had been told in a local dialect. Should they write it in Danish or in the dialect that it was told? Writing it in a dialect would make it incomprehensible to anyone who was accustomed to Danish. The solution the two gentlemen came up with was this: They wrote the stories in a rather radical form of Danish, using simple language, making the sentence structure more Norwegian and keeping culture specific words. Their work soon became a huge part of the work to Norwegianize the Danish. Keeping the culture-specific words was also important to rebuild Norwegian's cultural identity - of which after 400 years of Danish rule there was little left. Erik Werenskjold's and Theodor Kittelsen's illustrations of trolls were memorable in creating the atmosphere of the tales. John Bauer's illustrations of Tomte and Trolls are also wonderful.

Scriptorium has available images by various folktale illustrators.
The SurLaLune Fairy Tale Illustration Gallery
Bud Plant Illustrators pages

Online books Project: Folklore

For more collections of stories see Eldrbarry's The Golden Age of Literary Tales or Myths and Legends or Tall Tale America

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