The Imagination of a Child - The Storyteller of Savage Races - The Oldest Story of All - Where our Fairy Stories Come From - The Earliest Fairy Stories - Cinderella - Tales of Dwarfs - "Childe
Rowland" - The Brothers Grimm, Hans Andersen, Rudyard Kipling
"Tell me a tale, mummy," is a request the children are never tired of repeating. And when one tale has been told, another is demanded, till "mummy's" memory and imagination almost give way under the strain.
This desire for a tale, and this quickly learnt habit of tale-telling, come to every generation of children from many long ages ago. Long before man could write, he could talk, and very long before there were the most elementary rock-scratched tales the " story-teller" of each tribe would at certain times gather a big group of listeners, and tell them of wonderful deeds of the gods, and of the strange creatures which possibly might any day appear among them. Eastern people are still famed for their story-telling : the best-known collection of their ancient tales - the " Arabian Nights " - is a splendid specimen of the kind of story all people loved best.
Savage races now give their official" story-teller " a position of very high honour, and no king's Court is complete without one or two, even as no king or noble in Elizabethan days ever travelled without his jester.
So the request of the child for a story is not only the desire for amusement, but an instinct passed on from ages long dead.
But of all stories, the little ones clamour most for a "fairy story" - a story of lovely princesses, giant ogres, glass mountains, talking birds, and " lived happily ever after" endings. With most children the tale of the " Frog Prince " far surpasses in excellence "Black Beauty" or "Little Women." This is not only the child's imaginative delight in the supernatural, but the ancient feeling of the savage who really thought that all animals and trees, and even what we call "inanimate" things, had life in very much the same manner as himself. The wind in the trees was the voice of spirits, the smoke from the mountains the breath of some fierce ogre, the black hills far away in the distance were giants' castles, and beyond them lay all sorts of horrors. These ideas crystallised into stories, which have come down to us in many forms, and through many races of people. For the "fairy tale" is the oldest tale of all; many probably are as old as the Adam and Eve legend. All over the world, often among peoples other than Aryan (all the European, Indian, and Persian races), the main points of the orthodox fairy story are identical.
There is always the ill-treated, but finally successful, youngest daughter, the triumphant youngest (third or seventh) son, the substitution of the false bride for the true, and all the poor true bride's miseries, the husband and wife forced apart and seeking each other through all kinds of dangers and difficulties.
Our collection of fairy stories has been given us in readable form by M. Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Madame D'aulnoy, Hans Andersen, Andrew Lang, and many other lovers of folk-lore, but they are really the gathered imaginings of many races of people. So-called German tales belong to other European nations; Norse legends have their parallels in other languages; even the old Celtic tales of Ireland of the redoubtable Finn and his Fena are only improvements on those of a less cultured race.
The earliest known collection of fairy tales was in the time of Rameses II.; from then till Monsieur Perrault's publication, in 1697, stories had been spasmodically collected. But it was the Brothers Grimm who first collected "Kinder- und Haus-marchen" with a definite scientific purpose, to" discover, if possible, their origin and to trace their history. The result, as all the world knows, was the finest and most fascinating collection of fairy stories. Most of the tales they took down from peasants in different parts of Germany - Jakob's indefatigable wife, Dora, being of great assistance to them in the search, the beautiful story of "Schnee-witchen" (Snow-white) being one of her finds. But the Brothers Grimm not only collected the simply told tales of the peasants; they worked them up into the beautiful literary stories; this was what M. Perrault had done with his collection of 1697. In England a good many collections have been made of fairy tales in dialect. Most of these stories are found in other countries, but the English people have given them a few distinctive touches that seem to make them really English. " Tom Tit Tot," a favourite Suffolk story, is the English version of Grimm's
"Rumpelstiltskin" - the story of the little gnome who got the maiden into his power and threatened to take her away from her mother's home if she did not discover his name. This plot is of great antiquity, for the superstition has been common for many ages that to know a man's name gives one power over him.
statue of Hans Andersen, which is erected in Copenhagen. His
beautiful fairy tales are known to children all over the world. The statue represents him in a " story-telling" attitude
The story of the beautiful maiden discovered by her shoe - the story we know as "Cinderella" - is probably the widest-spread of all stories, for it has been found to exist in three hundred and forty-five variations ! It is generally said to have originated from the legend of the Egyp-tian serving - maid Rhodope, who lived on the banks of the Nile in 670 B.c. One day, while she was bathing in the sacred river, her sandal was seized by a greedy eagle and carried far away, till it was dropped, rather thoughtfully, at the feet of King Psammetichus. Immediately the king saw the shoe he fell in love with its shapely little form, and even more with the wonderful maiden to whom it must belong. He commanded, in the delightfully imperious way of ancient kings, that his servants should search the world until the owner of the shoe was discovered and brought to him - for none other would he wed. In time, after many adventures, Rhodope was found, and the king, seeing that she was very beautiful, made her his wife.