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The archetypal story of untapped treasure has been proven possible again. Erika Eichenseer discovered thirty boxes of von Schonwerth’s manuscripts just waiting to be uncovered. Hoping to find such a trove, Eichenseer brought to light what had been stored in the Regensburg archive for more than a century.

Fairy tales are fantastical by their very nature. Yet they contain insight into a culture’s fears and desires.

When I studied German in college, one of the things we did to practice was translate fairy tales. They were short and usually contained simple vocabulary. We could stumble through it anyway. I will never forget the story of “Die Waßernixe“, the water-sprite. In short, a brother and sister don’t listen to the warnings, fall into a fountain that is inhabited by an evil water sprite. She enslaves them. One day, they decide to escape. They leave just as she returns from church (?!?!), and she chases them. In order to get away, they throw a hairbrush and a comb with each turn into a bristly mountain. This is not enough, so the girl throws a mirror over her shoulder, which becomes a slippery glass mountain. This stymies the sprite and they get away.

To this day I am still puzzled by this story. What is the moral? Don’t play next to fountains? Always bring a hairbrush and a mirror? Don’t trust fairies who go to church?

The point of my little tangent is that fairy tales are the stuff of local imaginations and simple lives. They both explain so much about a set of people, and are always somewhat unattainable. These stories made perfect sense to those who told them around a fire or to a child before bed.

This book is sorted in to categories: magic and romance, enchanted animals, otherworldly creatures, legends, tall tales and anecdotes, and tales about nature. There are dozens of stories, some of them barely a page long. But each contains its own (if inscrutable) dose of wisdom.

Their style is terse and unflinching.

There once was a king with a daughter named Barbara. She was so ugly that everyone made fun of her. She lived a lonely life. ~Pg.130

And:

“Oh, no,” they said. “It’s just the meat.” She turned the sack inside out, and to her surprise the corpse of an old woman fell to the ground. They buried her as quickly as possible and no one was the wiser. Then they devoured with gusto the meat they had stolen. ~201

Readers are very fortunate that Eichenseer found and compiled this book. I am excited to see the literary works that grow up around these stories, especially in this day of reimagined classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
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Series: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics (February 24, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0143107429
ISBN-13: 978-0143107422
Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches

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