There was once on a time a poor man, who could no longer support his only son. Then said the son, “Dear father, things go so badly with us that I am a burden to you. I would rather go away and see how I can earn my bread.” So the father gave him his blessing, and with great sorrow took leave of him. At this time the King of a mighty empire was at war, and the youth took service with him, and with him went out to fight. And when he came before the enemy, there was a battle, and great danger, and it rained shot until his comrades fell on all sides, and when the leader also was killed, those left were about to take flight, but the youth stepped forth, spoke boldly to them, and cried, “We will not let our fatherland be ruined!” Then the others followed him, and he pressed on and conquered the enemy. When the King heard that he owed the victory to him alone, he raised him above all the others, gave him great treasures, and made him the first in the kingdom.
Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. He had little to bite and to break, and once when great scarcity fell on the land, he could no longer procure daily bread. Now when he thought over this by night in his bed, and tossed about in his anxiety, he groaned and said to his wife, “What is to become of us? How are we to feed our poor children, when we no longer have anything even for ourselves?” “I’ll tell you what, husband,” answered the woman, “Early to-morrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is the thickest, there we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one piece of bread more, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.” “No, wife,” said the man, “I will not do that; how can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest? — the wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces.” “O, thou fool!” said she, “Then we must all four die of hunger, thou mayest as well plane the planks for our coffins,” and she left him no peace until he consented. “But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the same,” said the man.
The traditional notion of where fairy tales come from suggests that people like the Brothers Grimm listened to oral folktales handed down through the generations and wrote them down with little embellishments. But now, in a book called Fairy Tales: A New History, Ruth B. Bottigheimer argues that fairy tales have a much more literary genesis than has been commonly thought. The Chronical Review has an interesting article about the different theories on the origin of some of the world’s most retold stories. The article points out how confusing and complex the history of fairy tales becomes when you consider that many of the most familiar tales are shared across different cultures. Jack Zipes, a leading translator and adapter of fairy tales says that “It’s absurd to create a dichotomy. The literary and the oral thrive off one another.”
There was once a girl who was idle and would not spin, and let her mother say what she would, she could not bring her to it. At last the mother was once so overcome with anger and impatience, that she beat her, on which the girl began to weep loudly. Now at this very moment the Queen drove by, and when she heard the weeping she stopped her carriage, went into the house and asked the mother why she was beating her daughter so that the cries could be heard out on the road?
There was once a man whose wife died, and a woman whose husband died, and the man had a daughter, and the woman also had a daughter. The girls were acquainted with each other, and went out walking together, and afterwards came to the woman in her house. Then said she to the man’s daughter, “Listen, tell thy father that I would like to marry him, and then thou shalt wash thyself in milk every morning, and drink wine, but my own daughter shall wash herself in water and drink water.”
There were once a man and a woman who had long in vain wished for a child. At length the woman hoped that God was about to grant her desire. These people had a little window at the back of their house from which a splendid garden could be seen, which was full of the most beautiful flowers and herbs. It was, however, surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to an enchantress, who had great power and was dreaded by all the world.