You’ve heard of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, but what about Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess, or the prince with the hair of gold? Mari Yamazaki reveals how this collection of Bavarian stories was discovered after laying in the archives for over 150 years.
In 1852, the gloriously named Franz Xaver von Schönwerth set off travelling around Bavaria. A native of the region, he spoke with the country people he encountered and with little more than coffee and cigars, was able to draw out their local legends, fairy tales and nursery rhymes. In the decades until his death he collected and faithfully recorded this folklore; strange tales of wives found in turnips, magic mirrors or a prince with hair of gold, condemned to death by his own father.
All the while, the modern world as we know it came to bear – the first underground rail system opened in London, Madame Bovary was partially published to great scandal in France and the light bulb was invented.
And then, nothing. For over 150 years the tales lay hidden until discovered a few years ago in an Oberpfalz archive in Regensburg, a quaint city with candy-coloured buildings and boasting not only UNESCO World Heritage status but the world’s oldest sausage kitchen. They were found by Erika Eichenseer, cultural curator and Schönwerth champion. Around 500 tales or so, many of which were never published before and now published for the first time in English by Penguin Classics.
By now, Germany was Germany and the Kingdom of Bavaria no more. The celebrated tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson had permeated much of Western culture. Yet as the one of the Grimms said himself of Schönwerth, “nowhere in the whole of Germany has anyone collected more circumspectly, more completely, or leaving so few traces”; a true historian, Schönwerth wanted to document the oral traditions he heard along the banks of the great river Danube, in the sweeping Black Forest and the picture-book pretty medieval towns. Can it be any surprise that fairy tales are often called wonder tales by scholars?
Follow Mari Yamazaki on Twitter @E8Mari. The Turnip Princess, and Other Newly Discovered Fairytales, Franz Xaver Von Schönwerth (Penguin Classics) is out now. Visit the Penguin Classics Tumblr to read The Portrait.