Archive for Myth and Fable

Going Beyond the Fairy Tales with Jacob Grimm

Photo of Jacob Grimm

Jacob Grimm

I recently got to download a Grimm book!

No doubt we’ve all heard of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, a collection of German tales compiled by the “brothers Grimm,” Jacob and Wilhelm, originally published in 1812. This collection has been reproduced and reprinted and added to and told and told again, over and over for two centuries, now. While many of the tales have now been sanitized, removing their original darker elements, in their original form, they reflected something of the true depth of real myth. It’s a collection everyone should become familiar with.

But this is not that book.

In university, years ago and to my joy and wonder, I discovered a set of four volumes entitled, Teutonic Mythology, translated from the original Deutsche Mythologie, put together by Jacob Grimm, the elder of the two brothers. He was a philologist — a studier of words and their history — as well as a jurist and mythologist. And his extensive studies of many languages and customs allowed him to trace links between the myths and mythical tales and practices of many European countries.

I have been a fanatic about myth since I became conscious. And as in all things, the older the traces of myth are, the more fascinated and enchanted I am. So I read as much as I could of the four volumes, back in my university days. And I have spent a couple of decades since then, trying to find them again. Somewhere, anywhere!

And now, through various downloading sites for more historic and even ancient books, and through Google Books, which seems to have been the main digitizer, I have finally found them. Hurray! I’ve downloaded all four volumes and am well into the first.

But here’s the thing. Two things, actually. First, Grimm was one of those who just assumed that the people reading his work knew the languages he quoted. So as he gives examples of ancient god names and sacred terms that seem to carry through from one language and culture to another (Anglo-Saxon, Old High German, etc.) — he doesn’t often make a translation. So I’m picking out a few words I recognize here and there or tracing the links I can detect, without actually knowing what the quotes are saying. Ah, those nineteenth century scholars. (Theologians and philosophers did the exact same thing.)

But there’s something funny too. Something that shows why not everything can be automated and why humans will always be necessary. I guess Google Books’ digitization process is meant to be kind of automatic. But the print may be faded or slightly unclear in places, in whatever books were used in this particular process. Or the digitizing program just didn’t recognize a symbol and came up a sort of “best guess.”

So take the word “Roman.” Much of the time, it reads “Eoman” in this book. Or, occasionally, “Boman.” It took me a while to recognize what was going on; I mean, this is talking about Germanic, Teutonic, Scandinavian stuff — remember Eomer and Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings? Yeah. So it took a few times before I realized, “Oh, ROMAN!”

Then there is “aU.” Which, it turns out, is a frequent instance of the word “all.” And what the heck is a “Uack hull,” which is being led to sacrifice?? Why, a “black bull,” of course. So here I am, trying to piece together words from fairly ancient Teutonic languages while also trying to decipher Google’s digitization mistakes. It’s kind of funny.

But for the most part, though, I’m doing it. And I am just loving finding out anew all those ancient linguistic connections and the earliest cultural traces of what are probably my favorite deities from any pantheon! (Loki is my patron god, after all; his ancient day is my birthday.)

Thank goodness for the Internet, and for Google’s digitization of a set of books I have looked for, like, forever! Rediscovering all these things is really wonderful. Or should I say, “reaUy womerful!”

Loki’s Wolves – An Adventure I’d Have Loved as a Preteen

Buy it now!

Move over, Greek and Roman gods, the Norse are coming!

Many of us in North America were raised knowing about Greek gods, but we haven’t learned much about the Norse gods. Some of that is changing, with a few stories being told about Thor and Loki. But there’s still a long way to go, and there are more Norse gods than just those two.

Enter Loki’s Wolves, a new middle grade book by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr. Thirteen-year-old Matt Thorsen from Blackwell, South Dakota, just happens to be a descendant of the long-gone Thor. And two classmates in school, cousins Fen and Laurie Brekke, are descended from Loki. So when Ragnarök comes at the end of the world—which is apparently just weeks away!—these three will have to stand in for the gods and fight to save the world. That’s what the local Seer says.

But before that happens, the three have to race against time to build a team of descendants of the other ancient Norse gods, and though they’ve all got some divine powers, they have to learn to use them. If Matt has to face the World Serpent as the chosen champion—something he’s not exactly looking forward to—he has to get very strong, very quickly.

It doesn’t help to know that in the original myths of Ragnarök, the gods actually didn’t win. Can the team of inexperienced and reluctant preteen champions change that outcome? Especially since another very serious and disturbing element from the original myths occurs just when they’re starting to get their team together. And meanwhile, if their own families don’t entirely want them to win—are they going to face more opposition than they expect?

I think any preteen who loves retellings of ancient myths or stories based on those myths is going to love Loki’s Wolves. It moves at a quick pace and leads Matt, Fen, and Laurie into ever more exciting, complex, and perilous adventures. The only complaint I had as I finished the book was the realization that this is the first of a trilogy called The Blackwell Pages—and we’re going to have to wait till next year to find out what happens next!

But before Odin’s Ravens comes out in 2014, the kids will have something else to concentrate on while they’re waiting. The authors are in the midst of creating a website, also called The Blackwell Pages, where readers of the books can learn about the divine characters and their original stories. There will be activities relating to the stories and even guides for teachers to teach Norse history and myth. And then, in 2015, the trilogy will culminate with Thor’s Serpent, where Matt and his friends will finally face their great test.

I know that when I discovered the Norse myths, as a teen, I was thrilled and fascinated. These stories and that website would have sent me over the moon. (A Norse god whose name, by the way, is Máni.) If you or a young person you know loves stories based on myth and wants to enjoy a tale based on Norse myths in particular, then Loki’s Wolves will be right up your alley.

Excellent Article Series: Grimm Surrealities

Little Red Riding HoodIn keeping with my interest in folklore and mythology–and, coincidentally, my various blog posts about fairy tales and related story and myth–I’m really enjoying a series on these subjects, written by a friend of mine whose nom de plume is Jas Faulkner. Her series is called Grimm Surrealities, and she’s exploring fairy tales in their original forms (do we even know those?) as well as the more modern resurrections of the same stories. Why did they resonate back then–and why do they still resonate today?

As Jas says in her first column, Shake Paws With Your Lunar Powered Best Friend:

There’s nothing pretty or princessy about the characters you’ll find in the stories as collected by the Grimm Brothers and others. Even Andrew Lang’s allegedly nursery-bound Colour Fairies series of books is far darker and redder in tooth and claw than the Golden Books of our childhood.

In upcoming columns, we’ll take a look at sources that have preserved and shaped how we view those tales.

Her second column is just out: Grimm Surrealities: My, what big eyes you have! In this one, she tackles the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Now, there’s a whole can of worms! I’m amused at her description of how people hae handled this story:

The story of Little Red Riding Hood is littered with psychosexual landmines that have rendered two centuries of lit-crit pros and archetypal psychology scholars into quivering masses of self-doubt. Once fierce verbal gladiators of the classroom and the seminar tug at their collars and swallow hard while they wonder when they left the shining path of dashing young turk academia for the more shadowy back alleys inhabited by a thousand lupine Humbert Humberts.

Lots of good stuff there about the telling of that tale, both in the past and in more recent treatments. And the squirming of the critical and psychological interpreters of the story. (And then there’s the latest interpretation I’ve seen, on the TV Series, Once Upon A Time, which turns the whole story entirely on its head.)

If you enjoy explorations of fairy tales and the rich subconscious, interpretive ocean from which they arise, keep watch for more of Jas’s columns. Can’t wait to see what she does with Cinderella! Or with Prince Charming — who really gets around, when you think of it.

Little Red Riding Hood - French depicition

French depiction of Little Red Riding Hood, by Fleury Francois Richard - painting in the Louvre

New Fairy Tales Discovered!

Title page of old Grimms Fairy Stories bookThis is very exciting news, to me: Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany. Even just reading the headline, I thought, “Ooooh, like the Grimm brothers!” And then, reading farther along, I discovered that Franz Xaver von Schonwerth had made his collection at around the same time as the Grimms did.

Which means that, whatever that article says about the Grimms’ fairy tales “charming children,” these tales are likely quite dark. Most of the Grimms’ tales were pretty dark too, before they were sanitized and often turned into sentimental pap in more recent generations. (There was not always a happy ending, I can tell you that.)

Here’s one of the early translations of the tales that were found: The Turnip Princess. It’s a bit confusing, but that’s the thing about the real thing: fairy tales, the real original ones, are indeed a little dark and confusing. They’re like dreams, a society working out the great subconscious matters. They are not neat and tidy. But they can be and are very profound, nonetheless.

I hope these are published in English translations at some point! I am also very amused that there’s a version of Cinderella in this collection. What does that make now — 366 separate versions?

[And looking for the image of the Grimms book, I discovered this wonderful site and a discourse on the Grimm brothers’ work: Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Looks like a great read!]

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