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Telling Tales

David Blamires

14. Lesser Fairytales Authors

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1Nineteenth-century Germany experienced a virtual industry in the collecting and writing of fairytales. While the Grimms and Bechstein dominated the field as far as national collections of traditional tales were concerned, many others devoted their efforts to particular regions of Germany. Their work is dealt with in another chapter. But there were also many writers who composed fairytales of their own, sometimes adapting traditional material, but often creating their own tales. Some of them, such as Fouqué, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Brentano and Hauff, gained considerable literary renown, and their fairytales figured prominently in works translated for the educated English reader. In addition, though, there were several writers whose work was recognized as being aimed exclusively at children. They did not necessarily confine themselves to fairytales, but wrote fables, animal tales, moral tales and children’s verse as well. The boundaries between these genres were, in any case, blurred. These writers frequently enjoyed considerable popularity in Germany, but were not so successful in Britain. Their names are nowadays scarcely known, but at different periods in the nineteenth century individual tales and even some whole books were translated into English and gained a modest readership. The authors that will be considered here are A. L. Grimm, Robert Reinick, J. J. Rudolphi and Richard von Volkmann-Leander.

2The first of these, Albert Ludwig Grimm (1786-1872), is significant on several counts. Firstly, he collaborated with Brentano in collecting material for Des Knaben Wunderhorn and, secondly, he himself produced a collection of Kindermährchen (Heidelberg: Mohr und Zimmer, 1809) that antedated the Kinder- und Hausmärchen of his more famous namesakes. He thus formed part of the Romantics’ fascination with folksongs and folktales, but as far as the latter were concerned his attitude towards publication was distinctly different from that of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

3A. L. Grimm, like many educated people of the day, believed that one could not reproduce a folktale just as it was presented by its oral narrator, but that it needed some judicious literary improvement. The Brothers Grimm did not believe his tales had turned out very well, and A. L. Grimm in his turn criticized the unpolished form of the tales in the Brothers Grimm’s first edition of 1812-15. He was not alone in his criticisms, and indeed the Grimms’ second edition of 1819 underwent considerable alterations in content and linguistic style in response to them.

4A. L. Grimm spent most of his life as head of the grammar school in Weinheim, being appointed in 1806. From 1829 to 1838 he was mayor of Weinheim and was a deputy to the Baden Diet from 1831. From 1854 he lived in Baden-Baden. In addition to the volume of Kindermährchen published in 1809, which reached a fifth edition by 1869, his books for children included Lina’s Mährchenbuch (Lina’s Fairytale Book) (1816), five volumes of Mährchen der Tausend und Einen Nacht (Fairytales from the Thousand and One Nights) (1820-24), Christblumen (Christmas Roses) (c. 1830) and Mährchen aus dem Morgenlande für die Jugend (1843). Of these Lina’s Mährchenbuch was translated into English as Fairy Tales, from the German of A. L. Grimm, with illustrations by [Robert] Cruikshank (London: Charles Tilt, 1827), and Mährchen aus dem Morgenlande appeared as Tales from the Eastern-Land, translated from the German by H.V. (London: Joseph Cundall, 1847). Joseph Cundall, who published many German works during the 1840s, also published separately in 1846 The Two Talismans, one of the four tales contained in Tales from the Eastern-Land. This was explicitly credited to A. L. Grimm, but he published The Water Fairy’s Gift and Other Tales and The Miller’s Son (both 1846) without any indication of Grimm’s name, though they had earlier been credited to him in The Christmas Roses, and Other Tales, chiefly translated from the German (London: Joseph Cundall, 1845). Other tales were included in miscellaneous collections and The Playmate, a monthly periodical issued by Cundall and later by David Bogue, which also appeared in book form. However, none of Grimm’s work was published later than the mid-century book form of The Playmate.

5The Christmas Roses was a miscellany containing six stories by A. L. Grimm, two by Rudolphi, one by Hauff and one by Ernst von Houwald. Since none of Grimm’s tales are included in his 1809 and 1816 fairytale collections, they are presumably taken from Christblumen, though I have been unable to check. All have a marked moral tone. In ’The Christmas Roses’, which gives its name to the miscellany, a mother prays to God about her sick son and is given a vase with white flowers which heal him. The story ends with the words: ’Yet the healing virtue and restoring power were imparted to the Christmas roses, only when conveyed by a heavenly visitant to the homes of peace and good-will’. In ’The Gleaner’ a farmer’s son helps a ragged boy who has been beaten by the squire’s son and lost all that he had gleaned in the cornfield. In this way he ’taste[s] a different pleasure’. ’The Hedgehog’ is a fable about a fox being driven out of its den by a hedgehog moving closer and closer to him. The hedgehog is interpreted as representing sin. Another example of wrong behaviour occurs in ’Lina’, in which the girl of the title is constantly naughty and a tease and is punished by being turned into a cuckoo. ’The Water Fairy’s Gifts’ follows a common pattern in Grimm’s tales. It contrasts a good boy with two bad boys, who set their dog on his sheep and cause a lamb to be drowned. A fairy replaces the good boy’s lamb and gives him in addition one with golden wool and another with silver wool, which he then gives to the king’s daughter. The king rewards him with the best estates in his kingdom. When the two bad boys attempt to replicate the process, the fairy sends wolves to strangle them and destroy their flock. This same pattern can be seen in Perrault’s ’Diamonds and Toads’ and ’Mother Holle’ by the Brothers Grimm, but with female protagonists.

6’Tony, the Miller’s Son’ is somewhat different in dealing with encounters with ’the little people’. A miller who refuses to yield to requests from the fairies suffers damage to his mill-wheel and the loss of cattle, sheep and pigs. His son, however, secretly helps a little man on another occasion and is rewarded by being led into the mines and given an orange that heals his mother’s sickness and a pomegranate that contains diamonds rather than ’pretty pink grains’. The story clearly illustrates the powers for good and evil that the fairies in their various guises were believed to have, but it can be more generally understood as demonstrating the fact that mean-spiritedness creates injury and disharmony while generosity is rewarded in unexpectedly full measure. ’Tony, the Miller’s Son’ was reprinted once together with ’The Gleaner’ in The King of the Swans, and Other Tales (London: Joseph Cundall, 1846). Then, after an interval of more than sixty years, it reappeared with the title ’The Little Brown Men’ in an adaptation by Frank Mundell in W. T. Stead’s Books for the Bairns (no. 160, May 1909). There it accompanied ’Prince or Tailor?’, an adaptation of Hauff’s ’The False Prince’, which had also been included in The King of the Swans. As far as I can tell, this was the last appearance of a tale by A. L. Grimm in English.

23. Title-page and frontispiece of The King of the Swans and Other Tales (1846)

7The earliest appearance of A. L. Grimm in English was his Fairy Tales (London: Charles Tilt, 1827), which provided three tales taken from Lina’s Mährchenbuch, namely, ’The Black Guitar; a Fairy Tale, founded on a Dream’ (’Die schwarze Zither’), ’The Two Foundlings of the Spring; or, the History of Brunnenhold and Brunnenstark’ (’Das Mährchen von Brunnenhold und Brunnenstark’) and ’The Story of the Three Brothers; or, the Avenging Cudgel’ (’Das Mährchen von dem Knüppel aus dem Sacke’). The latter two items are versions of the tale-types represented by the Brothers Grimm’s ’The Two Brothers’ (KHM 60) and ’The Table, the Ass and the Stick’ (KHM 36). A. L. Grimm’s didacticism is very plain at the end of ’The Story of the Three Brothers’, since he concludes:

And long after the magic table had been broken to pieces, and the golden donkey had died, as all donkies must, and Thomas had been buried, and the cudgel itself destroyed, the people of that village continued to warn their children of the cudgel. And the children, when they heard tell the story, grew afraid of the cudgel, and became good children, tractable and obedient.

8’The Black Guitar’ is nothing like a traditional German fairytale, nor is it a moral tale. It has elements that connect it with the quest tales of medieval romance, the Gothic horror tale and the Arabian Nights. The hero, Adelbert, is instructed by his teacher to ask his father for a guitar, at which the latter is enraged. Adelbert then, following a dream, climbs a tower from which beautiful music emerges, discovers a black guitar and rides away with it. He overcomes a dragon by playing the guitar, and the same process allows him to defeat a knight in black armour whom he meets in a tournament. The knight, who is called Otto, tells him a bizarre story about an abducted girl, and the two men engage in fearful adventures searching for her. One night Adelbert enters the pyramid of Cheops, brings a mummy to life and is given a small staff and instructions to travel up river to where it rushes over rocks. The staff when thrown down changes into a snake, which leads them to a cave. They encounter a lion, then six knights in black armour and eventually have to cope with a fence of flames (’”Ho, Ho,” cried Adelbert, ”is that a hedge like the one which Siegfried rode through?”). The guitar once more helps them, they rescue the abducted girl, Rosablanka, and take her back home, where she is married to Otto. Adelbert is reconciled with his father and founds a monastery. Later he mounts his horse, playing his guitar, ascends into the sky and vanishes. The story contains several elements that recur in other longer tales by Grimm – the problematic relationship between father and son, the prophetic dream, the magical token or talisman (here the black guitar) and the arduous journeys in the Orient.

9Grimm went on to write versions of tales from the Arabian Nights in 1820-24, but it was not until 1843 that he published his own Mährchen aus dem Morgenlande für die Jugend. This book, together with its steel engravings by J. B. Sonderland, was swiftly taken up by Cundall and published in 1847 with the title Tales from the Eastern-Land. It was successful enough to be reprinted by Henry G. Bohn in 1852. Another edition was published by George Routledge and Sons in 1888, so as far as Britain was concerned this was A. L. Grimm’s best known work. The book contains four long tales – ’The Merchant of Balsora’, ’The Two Talismans’, ’The Story of Haschem’ and ’The Three Trials’. The German spellings of Arabic names are retained in the English, so we have Jussuf for Yussuf, Haschem for Hashem, and so on. The tales, which all have male protagonists, are full of incident and adventure and modelled on the longer tales from the Arabian Nights.

10’The Merchant of Balsora’shows its hero tested by two opposing females, one appearing first in the shape of a butterfly and symbolizing the life of pleasure, while the other, Haschanascha, represents inward devotion; her name when spoken always evokes assistance to the hero in times of distress. Haschanascha is black-skinned, and this the hero, Jussuf, finds off-putting, but he can only escape being sacrificed to the sacred serpent of his captors by agreeing to marry her. It takes a long time for Jussuf to accept the values of Haschanascha, but when he finally rejects the butterfly Haschanascha loses her black skin, and Jussuf is married to her. The colour symbolism here applied to human beings reflects the cultural attitudes of the times, and it is reinforced by the frequency with which slaves, in these stories, are referred to as black-skinned too. But it is a feature that makes for uncomfortable reading today. The black and white symbolism is also found in ’The Story of Haschem’, where it characterizes two lovers again, but this time without any racial connotations. In ’The Three Trials’ the hero has to shoot a white eagle and a black lion in order to be able to open a rusted iron chest, so here one can see black and white as being both necessary for the acquisition of a precious talisman. It is certainly not the case that black is always viewed in negative terms. However, all these ’Eastern’ stories embody clear moral values – modesty of lifestyle, the importance of virtuous principles being inculcated in childhood, persistence in times of adversity – but they now emerge from the story rather than being the primary function as in some of the shorter tales.

11Two of A. L. Grimm’s stories circulated in English apart from the others that were taken from Lina’s Mährchenbuch. They were translated by Madame de Chatelain (1807-76), who introduced British children to a considerable amount of other German material as well as writing books of her own. ’Little Freddy and his Fiddle’ (’Ein lustiges Mährlein vom kleinen Frieder mit seiner Geige’) centres on the motif of the fiddle that forces everyone to dance to it, which is probably better known through the Brothers Grimm’s ’The Jew in the Thornbush’. ’Never Mind the Laugh of Fools’ (’Laß dich der Narren Spott nicht kümmern’) is an invented animal fable illustrating the consequences of paying attention to the mockery of those who have no understanding. Both stories were published in the magazine The Playmate.

12Albert Ludwig Grimm is known in English chiefly through the agency of the publisher Joseph Cundall, and it is Cundall again who provides us with stories by the little known J. J. Rudolphi, the pseudonym of Johann Jakob Rutz, who wrote a collection of Kindermährchen (Heidelberg: Winter, 1838), from which Cundall took several items and published them in different books. The Christmas Roses contains, first, ’The Tales of the Stork, Fox, and Magpie’, which consists of three items. The stork tells how, when he alighted on a ship on his flight back from Africa, he saw the cook slit open a monstrous fish from which a little man escaped. There then follows the little man’s account of his adventures à la Tom Thumb, after which the stork carries him back to his parents ’home. The fox’s tale explains how he escaped being killed as a cub, was trained as a bellows-dog in a smithy, tricked a tom-cat into exchanging places with him, landed in a small menagerie with a lion, helped the lion to escape and joined him in service to a prince, who eventually gave him his liberty. This is a newly invented tale showing the fox in his typical role of trickster. The magpie’s tale is a humorous piece about the way in which a huge cabbage is used to simulate, first, the head of a giant and scare away marauding knights and, second, a silent old man, whom the king prefers to all his talkative councillors. Finally, the cabbage is used to substitute for the king when rebels determine to execute him.

13The other story by Rudolphi in The Christmas Roses is entitled ’The Labyrinth’ and follows traditional fairytale structure. In it three brothers go to a castle in quest of a pen that writes by itself, a wheel than can spin itself and a bird that can speak all languages. All fail to find their way back, but are ultimately rescued by their youngest brother. If this were a traditional tale, it would probably include princesses to be rescued or married at the conclusion, but Rudolphi provides no such romantic element. This is also the case with the two stories of his that Cundall published in The King of the Swans, and Other Tales.

14Both ’The King of the Swans’ and ’The Children’s Spring’ seem designed for quite young children. The first tells how a little girl goes in search of strawberries in winter for her sick friend. She meets a man wearing clothing of swansdown, who directs her to a land where it is summer. Before she can return home she has to make a gift to the King of the Swans and presents him with some of her strawberries. Then, blindfolded, she flies back home, and her friend is restored to health by the strawberries. When she is older the King of the Swans gives her a gold crown of strawberry leaves with rubies, diamonds and amethysts. ’The Children’s Spring’ seems to have taken its basic motif from Ludwig Tieck’s eerie story ’The Elves’, of which Edgar Taylor included a condensed version in the second volume of German Popular Stories, but Rudolphi’s tale is less worrying. In it a little girl, Adelaide, falls through an aperture into an isolated old building and gets wet. A woman with two children finds her dry clothes, and she plays happily with other children there. When she wants to go home, she takes a crystal as a remembrance and is given a basket made of green stone in the shape of acanthus leaves. She is directed along a dark passage and told to follow the star at the end. There she meets her brother, with whom she had been playing at the outset of the story. She is now wearing a dress shining like stars, which is a token of the truthfulness of her experience when she tells her parents about it. Later she sees the scar on her hand that had been caused by her accident, and she remembers being chided for being so curious and decides not to be so curious in the future. This ending is rather odd, as Adelaide has gained precious gifts and no lasting injury from her adventure. The idea that she should desist from being inquisitive is simply part of contemporary notions of undesirable behaviour. Children were trained to be docile and obedient rather than following their own whims and desires.

15Rudolphi’s tales are pleasant enough, though largely derivative in content and unremarkable in expression. Only Cundall published them, and there were no reprints. However, ’The King of the Swans’ was adapted and included in a slender miscellany of fairytales in Books for the Bairns, no. 162 (July 1909). Since then Rudolphi has disappeared from print in both Britain and Germany.

16The publication in English of our next fairytale author, Robert Reinick (1805-52), also owes a great deal to the interest of Joseph Cundall. His name is nowadays largely forgotten in Britain, but Reinick was one of the most popular authors of children’s stories and verses in Germany during the second half of the nineteenth century. According to one authority, his lyrics were, next to those of Heine and Emanuel Geibel, the most often set to music of his period. Certainly, Reinick had a deft touch as a popular writer, but the field in which he excelled – lyric poetry – does not lend itself easily to translation, and there are thus very few English versions of his poems. With his stories and fairytales it is a different matter.

17Probably the first of Reinick’s stories to appear in English were contained in a book entitled The Donkey’s Shadow and Other Stories, by various authors (London: Addey & Co., c. 1856). Addey’s books reflect Cundall’s earlier and contemporaneous productions, so Cundall, who was in partnership with Addey between 1849 and 1852, may well have been the connexion for Reinick’s tales. The title story and six others are credited to Reinick, but no indication is given of the translator. The stories are quite varied in character and length. Three are fairytales involving magic or the supernatural, one is a nursery tale, one an animal story, one a humorous anecdote and one a moral tale.

18’The Sedge Island’ (’Die Schilfinsel’) focusses on the danger of contacts between humans and supernatural creatures, as a twelve year old girl is captivated by the song of nixes and later drawn down into the lake where she goes fishing. Three days later her dead body is washed ashore. ’Prince Gold-Fish and the Fishermaid’ (’Prinz Goldfisch und das Fischermädchen’) also centres on this same motif, but has a happy ending. Here a prince is enchanted by a water fairy into a goldfish and then caught by a fishergirl, Elizabeth. She rejects his invitation to join him in his watery kingdom and throws a stone at him when he is back in the water. After a cry his gold skin rises to the surface of the water and Elizabeth takes it, thinking she will be able to sell it for much-needed money. Later, unknown to Elizabeth, it is announced that the prince has returned and is looking to choose a wife. Coincidentally, Elizabeth attempts to sell the fish-skin there, but is robbed of it by a splendidly attired lady, who claims it is hers and wants to marry the prince. She is the water fairy in disguise, but the prince rejects her and chooses Elizabeth instead. The third fairytale, ’The Forest Mill’, also deals with an enchantment. In it a discharged soldier follows a white butterfly to a mill in the forest, which he finds inhabited only by a hen, a cat, a dove and an ass. He is subjected to various tests and disturbances during the night and accused of killing the miller’s daughter (i.e. the dove). He declares himself to deserve death, and his eyes are bandaged in readiness for being shot, but once the order has been given to fire he finds himself confronted with the miller, his wife, maid and man, who are the real occupants of the mill and have been under a spell, which he has broken. The miller’s daughter lies on the ground before him and has a small red speck on her forehead. The story ends with the soldier marrying her and revitalizing the forest mill. The German original has four more paragraphs, attributing the spell to Oberon, the king of the elves, and explaining that it can only be undone when the one who has killed the dove is ready to give his own life for it.

19These fairytales are independent creations of Reinick’s, but ’The Fellow-Lodgers’ (’Die Hausgenossen’) claims to be an adaptation of a Low German tale from East Prussia. In content it is a combination of motifs found also in the Grimms’ ’The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’ and ’Little Louse and Little Flea’. ’Wise Cockscomb’ (’Eine Hühnerwirtschaft’) is an animal tale derived from elements of the Reynard the Fox stories, in which the fox is finally caught in a trap and killed. ’The Donkey’s Shadow’ (’Des Esels Schatten’) is an amusing anecdote about a man riding from Rome to Tivoli in the scorching sun on a donkey, and the donkey-driver competing with him in attempting to get a shady rest in the donkey’s shadow. The inspiration for this story presumably came from Reinick’s visit to Rome and the surrounding countryside in 1838, when he met up with his painter friend Theodor von Oer. The remaining tale, ’Christiana, the Lace-Girl’ (’Spitzenchristel’), is set in Dresden and recounts a typical story of a poor girl assisted by a wealthy family, accused by a vicious portress of a theft which she has not committed and, by happy chance, ultimately proved innocent. Tales of this kind abound in nineteenth-century Germany and Britain – Christoph von Schmid’s Basket of Flowers immediately springs to mind as comparable in plot to ’Christiana, the Lace Girl’. Their reliance on coincidence or a deus ex machina to provide a happy resolution to injustice is wearisome to the modern reader, though it probably reassured the philanthropic or Evangelical readers of the day.

20As far as I can tell, only one of Reinick’s was published in English as a separate book. This was his fairytale ’Die Wurzelprinzessin’, which was published as The King of Root Valley and his Curious Daughter, with eight illustrations by T. von Oer and R. Reinick (London, 1856). No translator’s name is given. Another version was published in the United States a few years later with the title The Root-Princess. A Christmas Story, translated by Fanny Fuller (Philadelphia: F. Leypoldt; New York: F. W. Christern, 1865). This attractive fairytale owes a great deal to Hoffmann’s Nutcracker and Mouse-King, but Reinick’s animated Nutcracker is the villain rather than the hero of the piece. The scene is transferred from an urban indoor setting to a hidden valley somewhere off the road from Nuremberg to Leipzig. A coach laden with boxes of toys crashes down a ravine into a stream which has the property of bringing to life everything that falls into it. The Nutcracker thus becomes acquainted with the tiny people no more than a span in height who live in the Root Valley. The Nutcracker marries the Root Princess, but antagonizes the Root people by his arrogance and power politics. War breaks out, and rabbits, moles, lizards and worms are called in to literally undermine the Nutcracker’s domain. Eventually, everything is swept away in a storm. The Root people represent a kind of natural, orderly way of life that is innocent and vulnerable to the desire for power of the mechanical, even machine-like invader. The Root Princess falls prey to the Nutcracker and, later, a human bird-catcher, but she is rescued and warns the Root people of the danger, at which they all disappear into the crevices of the surrounding rocks and have never been seen again. While on one level this is a simple fantasy for children, reflecting beliefs about the disappearance of the fairies in the face of human encroachment, it can also be interpreted politically as referring to the self-aggrandizement of Napoleon and his sweeping away of the numerous petty principalities which existed in Germany up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is Reinick’s lament for the passing of traditional ways.

21A few other tales by Reinick find a place in The Playmate, but do not add anything substantially different from what we have already looked at. ’The Seven Boys and the Monster’, which derives from the traditional tale of ’The Seven Swabians’ (the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen, no. 119), was translated by Cundall’s half-brother, Lawrence Drake Cundall, who also translated the moral tale ’The Little Pot of Pinks’. Another tale, ’The Hermit’, which has affinities with ’The Forest Mill’, was translated by Alfred Sothern. It is a pity that we do not know more about the other translators of Reinick’s tales. For the most part, his stories were printed only once in English. ’The Forest Mill’ and ’Wise Cockscomb’ are exceptions in being reprinted in A Wonder Book of Beasts, edited by F. J. Harvey Darton (London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1909). Reinick was of interest to the Victorians as one more German fairytale writer, but he did not become a classic like the Brothers Grimm or Hoffmann.

22A few other German writers of fairytales are represented in British collections by the occasional item, but the last author to make a significant impact in the nineteenth century was Richard von Volkmann-Leander (1830-89) with a collection entitled Dreams by a French Fireside, translated by M. O’Callaghan (London: Chapman & Hall, 1886). Another translation, by J. Raleigh, appeared with the title Dreams by French Firesides, with illustrations by Louis Wain (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1890). The German original, Träumereien an französischen Kaminen, was first published in Leipzig in 1871 under the pseudonym Richard Leander. The title has an ironic significance, since these tales were written by a leading German army surgeon in his leisure hours during the Franco-Prussian War, especially during the protracted period of the siege of Paris. He sent the sheets of paper on which they were written back to his wife and children, and they were published in book form when he returned. He concluded his preface to the collection with words that embody the feelings of a passionate German patriot:

So now the little book shall go out into the world as a memorial of that great and glorious time, although the only modest connection with that time that it can claim for itself is this: that it has grown up out of the love of that for which we fought and struggled; out of love for the German nation and German life. God bless our glorious Fatherland!

23These fairytales, born of the love of home and family while far distant from it, enjoyed great popularity. The book went through forty-eight editions in German up to 1913, no doubt because, as one critic writes, ’the collection is defined and permeated by the idyll of middle-class domesticity’. In the twenty-two tales we can see Volkmann-Leander using and adapting fairytale structures and motifs with which he must have been familiar from the Brothers Grimm, Bechstein and Hans Andersen, but which he imbues more strongly with his own social and personal values. These are very much concentrated in the family – in the mutual respect and attachment of husband and wife, the care of parents for children, the preciousness of inner emotions that are often hard to articulate in words.

24But while the family is the focus of Volkmann-Leander’s tales, it does not exclude other patterns of life. ’The Old Trunk’, for example, tells of an old bachelor who possesses a worn trunk containing a secret case that he doesn’t want anyone else to touch, inside which a fairytale princess is hidden. As we see here, many of the tales have a readily discernible, but not obtrusively didactic symbolic meaning. ’The Dream Beech’ presents a discussion on the nature of marriage, focussing on a crisis in a married couple’s life brought about by different understandings on the part of a rational husband and a (for want of a better word) superstitious wife. An old beech tree has the reputation that if anyone has a dream beneath it, not thinking about what he might dream, it will come true. The husband, when he was a poor travelling journeyman, had had a dream of domestic bliss under the beech and, under pressure, told the daughter of the innkeeper that his dream concerned marrying her and some day becoming the landlord himself. In due course then the two marry, have children and are very happy, and on the landlord’s death the husband takes over the inn himself. Then, one day another man has a dream under the beech tree, and the husband ridicules his wife’s belief that the tree can foretell the future. Despite their happiness she is deeply upset, realizing that her marriage is not a result of destiny following her husband’s dream. The husband becomes sad at his wife’s emotional withdrawal, sits under the beech and has a repeat of his dream of five years previously. He regards it as merely a dream, but his wife takes it as a sign that they really do belong together.

’God be praised!’ she said; ’now everything is right again. I love you so much, so much, far more than you know; and I have been in such misery all these days lest I ought not to love you, and lest God had not destined us for each other. For you did steal my heart, wicked husband, and at first you did deceive me; but now I know that it made no difference, and that although you stole it away from me it would have been yours just the same without that’.

25Yet another tale centres on Volkmann-Leander’s perception of the intertwining of the miraculous with the everyday. ’The Invisible Kingdom’ concerns a young peasant who goes looking for a beautiful princess whom he sees in a dream. On his journey he encounters an old man being severely beaten by two repulsive naked men and manages to drive them away. The old man is the King of Dreams, the naked men are the servants of the King of Reality. Eventually the young peasant finds the princess, marries her and returns to his village as the king of an invisible kingdom, but none of the villagers can recognize his wife as being a princess. This story was also anthologized in The Diamond Fairy Book (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1897).

26At least two of Volkmann-Leander’s tales bear strong resemblances to those of Andersen. ’Goldiekin’ (’Goldtöchterchen’) is reminiscent of ’Thumbelina’, but the heroine here is an ordinary little girl who walks out of the house early one morning and experiences the marvels of nature with a duck and a stork to guide her. When she does not return, her parents search fruitlessly for her, but in the end she is brought home by an angel. The more complex story of ’The Little Blackamoor and the Golden Princess’ owes a good deal to ideas in Andersen’s ’The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep’ and ’The Steadfast Tin Soldier’. Andersen makes it clear that his characters are toys or ornaments, but Volkmann-Leander leaves this ambiguous. His blackamoor keeps losing his colour, becoming grey and then white, as it washes off. Yet at an earlier stage in the story, when, as a boy, he qualifies as a chimney sweep and the other apprentices try to wash the colour off him, they are unsuccessful. Our hero then learns to play the violin and after five years becomes a master violinist. At this stage, while he is still grey, he declares his love to a golden princess, who laughs at him. Realizing he has said something stupid, he runs away. Later, he sees her again at a fair, but her gold is now wearing away, leaving brass underneath. She would be prepared to marry him now, but he refuses and instead marries a wife with a golden heart. The golden princess falls into the possession of a huckster. The colour symbolism works well enough with toys in showing that outer appearances often belie inner qualities and that one needs to look below the surface, but for today’s reader it is disturbing when applied to a black person. Leander’s attitudes towards the blackamoor are very mixed. On the one hand, he registers the injustices he suffers – being trained as a chimney sweep instead of a violinist, being victimized by his fellow apprentices, being left naked afterwards on the street, being mocked for his declaration of love to the golden princess – and with all of this the reader identifies. But on the other hand the blackamoor only succeeds in life to the extent that he loses his blackness – assimilation is the name of the game. The story does not display any sense of the blackamoor as a real person; his blackness is used simply symbolically.

27Even where they are overtly didactic Volkmann-Leander’s tales have an appealing tone. This is nowhere more evident than in stories where spouses or lovers seek to save their partners. ’The Rusty Knight’ was sufficiently engaging that it was used for the title of two twentieth-century collections of Volkmann-Leander’s stories. It tells the story of a knight whose wicked conduct is punished by God causing one side of his body to be afflicted with rust. His wife wishes to cure him and is told by a hermit that she must become a beggar, collect a hundred golden guilders and then go with him and put the money in the church poor-box. In trying to accomplish this, the wife undergoes great hardship and also gives birth to a child. Meanwhile, the knight too goes to the hermit and is told to do good and pray in all the churches, if he wants to find his wife again. The wife has only collected two guilders when the knight encounters her and the child and is moved by compassion. He does not recognize her, but puts a purse with more than a hundred guilders in her lap – it is everything he has. The cloak drops from her head, and he sees that he has given the money to his own wife. She puts it in the poor-box, saying she wanted to save him, but he has saved himself. This story has some similarity with the medieval tale of Der arme Heinrich (Poor Henry) by Hartmann von Aue, in which a knight who neglects God is afflicted with leprosy and can only be cured by a young girl freely giving her life-blood for him. At the final moment, just before she is to be operated on by a surgeon, Henry undergoes a change of heart, refuses to allow her to sacrifice herself and through that refusal is himself cured. Volkmann-Leander’s tale is less extreme in the sacrifice demanded, but the idea that sacrificial love can lead to a godless man’s change of heart is just the same.

28Clearly, it is impossible to deal separately with all Volkmann-Leander’s tales, but to conclude I want to mention ’The Three Sisters with Glass Hearts’, since as well as forming part of the complete book it was included in two general anthologies. It appeared with the title ’The Three Sisters and their Glass Hearts’, wrongly stated as being ’From the Russian’ and without Volkmann-Leander’s name, in The Golden Fairy Book (London: Hutchinson & Co., no date). A different translation was published as ’The Three Princesses with Glass Hearts’ in The Dwarf’s Tailor and Others. Fairy Tales from all Nations, collected by Zoe Dana Underhill (London: Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1897). A king and queen have three daughters with fragile hearts of glass. The first breaks hers looking out of a window and dies; the second cracks hers, but keeps going nonetheless; the third will need a husband who is both a glazier and a king. This latter princess has a very fine page to carry her train and wishes he could fill the part. He trains to become a glazier and then learns that the second condition has been dropped because it has proved impossible to find the combination. The new condition is that he should please the princess and have smooth hands (or ’velvet paws’ as it says in the original), so of course he fills the bill. Not only do they marry and have children, but the second princess – the one with the cracked heart – lives on and helps with their education. As the narrator says, articles that are cracked and don’t break often survive a long time.

29Of the four fairytale authors considered in this chapter Volkmann-Leander has probably dated the least. While several of his tales use traditional fairytale motifs and reveal the influence of Andersen, they are far from being purely imitative. They display a delightful, wry sense of humour as well as common-sense wisdom in the matter of human relationships. Volkmann-Leander writes with subtlety and profound conviction about matters that may appear simple, but are never superficial. His prose is smooth, unshowy and reassuring. Perhaps he was the last person able to write fairytales with such an unstudied optimism. Writers of fairytales in the twentieth century tend to be more ironic, to subvert the genre and infuse it with doubts and questions.

30As a tailpiece to this chapter it is not out of place to mention, as an indicator of the impact that German fairytales had on an English writer, one of the most popular of Victorian literary fairytales – John Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River, first published in 1851 by George Allen of Orpington, but frequently reprinted right into the twentieth century. Ruskin composed this tale in 1841 for the twelve year old Euphemia Chalmers Gray (Effie), whom he married in 1848. At the time of writing Ruskin (1819-1900) was around twenty-two and at the brink of gaining widespread attention with the first volume of Modern Painters (1843). The King of the Golden River, which first appeared without Ruskin’s name, was illustrated by Richard Doyle, who had previously illustrated John Edward Taylor’s translation of a selection of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, The Fairy Ring (1846). Ruskin was clearly a devotee of the Grimms, and his invented tale follows the typical structure he had learnt from them, but is more expansive and prone to slip occasionally into Victorian verbosity.

31The story is set in the mountains of Stiria (Ruskin’s spelling) and centres on three brothers, the older two being typically wicked, while the youngest is victimized by them and wholly virtuous. Their names link up with their roles, as the eldest is called Schwartz (’Black’), the youngest Gluck (presumably from German Glück, ’good fortune, happiness’), while the middle brother has the generic name Hans (’Jack’). Unlike the traditional fairytale, Ruskin’s does not end with the youngest brother’s marriage to a princess; in fact, it has no female characters at all. It is instead a kind of disguised treatise on the values of different kinds of human society. It opens with the older brothers cultivating the Treasure Valley in which they live, destroying birds and animals that do not suit them, exploiting their servants and refusing to pay them. Their lack of care for the world of nature and human beings results in their valley suffering an inundation (an echo of the Biblical Flood) after a visit by a strange gentleman who turns out to be the South West Wind Esquire, as it states on his visiting card.

32The brothers then move to a large city where the older two continue their wicked ways, manufacturing gold goods debased with copper. They throw a golden mug belonging to Gluck into their furnace, but later, in their absence, there emerges from it a golden dwarf, who announces himself as the King of the Golden River and tells Gluck that whoever climbs the mountain and casts three drops of holy water into the source of the Golden River will find it turned into gold. The Golden River is the name given to a waterfall the brothers could see from the Treasure Valley glowing golden in the evening sunlight. Curiously, its water does not flow into their valley, but into another one. Each of the brothers attempts to perform the arduous deed, but the older two gain their holy water by theft or deception and fail to give anything to drink to the thirsty dog, small child and old man that they encounter on their ascent of the mountain. Gluck, quite expectedly, succeeds, as he is prepared to help those in need. The dog turns into the King of the Golden River, who picks a lily with three drops of dew on it for Gluck to cast into the torrent. The Treasure Valley is restored to its state of fertility, since, as Ruskin says, ’the inheritance, which had been lost by cruelty, was regained by love’.

33The King of the Golden River reflects a peculiarly masculine society; it contains no mother, sister, wife, daughter, witch or fairy, not even a stepmother. But neither does it have any aristocracy apart from the dwarf King of the Golden River himself. (Great Britain had for a long time had only a constitutional monarch, though Queen Victoria’s uncle established himself with greater powers when he succeeded to the throne of Hanover as King Ernest Augustus in 1837.) Ruskin’s story moves from an oppressive, quasi-feudal agricultural society by way of a corrupt kind of urban industrialism to a paradise or Utopia that is a return to the land, the Treasure Valley, but with a complete transformation of human values. As with the Grimms’ story ’The Golden Bird’, from which Ruskin seems to have drawn several ideas, the gold is symbolic of the highest value in life. It indicates prosperity and happiness rather than simply economic wealth. The story works well on several levels, but to a modern reader it raises questions that Ruskin may not consciously have been aware of. Given that his marriage to Effie was annulled in 1854 on the grounds of non-consummation, we can perhaps read his omission of any female characters, especially a spouse for Gluck, as indicative of his own unreadiness to deal with the sexual aspect of life. It would be rather unusual, in writing a fairytale for a twelve year old girl, to exclude altogether the idea of a romantic marriage such as we find in ’Aschenputtel’, ’Rapunzel’, ’Snow-White’ or ’Dornröschen’, to mention only a few of Grimms’ most popular tales. But at this stage in his life Ruskin was more concerned with himself as Gluck and his test with the Golden River. It isn’t unreasonable to think of Gluck’s climbing of the mountain as equivalent to the intellectual heights that Ruskin was himself in the process of scaling. But given the emphasis on the debased gold forged in the city, we may also understand the gold in the Golden River as indicative of the economic wealth he aimed to accrue through his intellectual endeavours.

  • 1 For a much fuller discussion of The King of the Golden River, with different emphases, see U. C. K (...)

34However, in the idea of the Treasure Valley Ruskin expresses his antipathy to the industrial city, as, like so many other writers of fairytales, he embraces the potent dream of a fertile and harmonious rural paradise. If we compare the elegiac conclusion of Robert Reinick’s The King of Root Valley and his Curious Daughter with Ruskin’s optimistic ending to The King of the Golden River, it isn’t a simple matter of Reinick accepting, however reluctantly, the inexorable onward march of history and Ruskin resisting it. Along with his advocacy of a return to the land, Ruskin is demanding a change in the way that human beings behave towards one another. Schwartz and Hans destroy themselves as they destroy others in their materialistic pursuit of wealth. The future belongs to Gluck, who is pure in heart, truthful and always willing to share what he has with those in need. The brutality of arbitrarily wielded power has to give way to a situation of respect, co-operation and mutual support.1


1 For a much fuller discussion of The King of the Golden River, with different emphases, see U. C. Knoepflmacher, Ventures into Childland: Victorians, Fairy Tales and Femininity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 36-72.

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Légende 23. Title-page and frontispiece of The King of the Swans and Other Tales (1846)
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