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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS
Preface

 

PREFACE

THERE are some things in this world we can get along without, but, the
experience of many thousand years has shown us that the fairy tale is
not one of them. There must have been fairy tales (or fables, or folk
tales, or myths, or whatever name we choose to give them) ever since
the world began. They are not exclusively French, German, Greek,
Russian, Indian or Chinese, but are the common property of the whole
human family and are as universal as human speech.

All the world over, fairy tales are found to be pretty much the same.
The story of Cinderella is found in all countries. Japan has a Rip Van
Winkle, China has a Beauty and the Beast, Egypt has a Puss in Boots,
and Persia has a Jack and the Beanstalk.

Those wise people who have made a careful study of literature, and
especially of what we call folk tales or fairy tales or fables or
myths, tell us that they all typify in some way the constant struggle
that is going on in every department of life. It may be the struggle
of Summer against Winter, the bright Day against dark Night, Innocence
against Cruelty, of Knowledge against Ignorance. We are not obliged to
think of these delightful stories as each having a meaning. Our
enjoyment of them will not be less if we overlook that side, but it may
help us to understand and appreciate good books if we remember that the
literature of the world is the story of man's struggle against nature;
that the beginnings of literature came out of the mouths of story-
tellers, and that the stories they told were fairy tales-imaginative
stories based on truth.

There is one important fact to remember in connection with the old
fairy tales, and that is that they were repeated aloud from memory, not
read from a book or manuscript.

The printing of books from type may be said to date from the year 1470,
when Caxton introduced printing into England. It is said that the
first book printed in English which had the pages numbered was a book
of tales, "Aesop's Fables."

As late as 1600 printed books were still so rare that only rich men
could own them. There was one other way of printing a story-on
sheepskin (split and made into parchment) with a pen-but that was a
long and laborious art that could only be practiced by educated men who
had been taught to write. The monks were about the only men who had
the necessary education and time, and they cared more for making copies
of the Bible and Lives of the Saints than they did of fairy tales. The
common people, and even kings and queens, were therefore obliged to
depend upon the professional story-teller.

Fairy tales were very popular in the Middle Ages. In the long winter
months fields could not be cultivated, traveling had to be abandoned,
and all were kept within doors by the cold and snow. We know what the
knight's house looked like in those days. The large beamed hail or
living room was the principal room. At one end of it, on a low
platform, was a table for the knight, his family, and any visiting
knights and ladies. At the other tables on the main floor were the
armed men, like squires and retainers, who helped defend the castle
from attack, and the maids of the household.

The story-teller, who was sometimes called a bard or skald or minstrel,
had his place of honor in the center of the room, and when the meal was
over he was called upon for a story. These story-tellers became very
expert in the practice of their art, and some of them could arouse
their audiences to a great pitch of excitement. In the note that
precedes the story "The Treason of Ganelon," in the volume "Heroes and
Heroines of Chivalry," you can see how one of these story-tellers, or
minstrels, sang aloud a story to the soldiers of William the Conqueror
to encourage them as he led them into battle.

The fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm were first published in
1812. They spent thirteen years collecting them, writing them down as
they were told by the peasants in Hesse, a mountainous province of
Germany lying far removed from the great main roads.

Their friends helped them, but their best friend was the wife of a
cowherd, a strong, intelligent woman of fifty, who had a perfect genius
for storytelling. She knew she told the stories well, and that not
many had her gift. The Grimms said that though she repeated a story
for them three times, the variations were so slight as to be hardly
apparent.

The American Indian stories of Manabozho the Mischief-Maker and his
adventures with the Wolf and the Woodpeckers and the Ducks were
collected in very much the same way by Henry R. Schoolcraft (1793-
1864), the explorer and traveler, who lived among the Indian tribes for
thirty years.

Mrs. Steel has told us how she collected her Hindu stories, often
listening over and over to poor story-tellers who would spoil a story
in trying to tell it, until one day her patience would be rewarded by
hearing it from the lips of the best storyteller in the village, who
was generally a boy.

As all nations have their fairy tales, you will find in this collection
examples of English, Irish, French, German, Scandinavian, Icelandic,
Russian, Polish, Serbian, Spanish, Arabian, Hindu, Chinese, and
Japanese fairy tales, as well as those recited around the lodge fires
at night by American Indians for the entertainment of the red children
of the West.

I hope the work may prove for many a boy and girl (of any age up to a
hundred) the Golden Bridge over which they can plunge into that
marvelous world of fairies, elves, goblins, kobolds, trolls, afreets,
jinns, ogres, and giants that fascinates us all, lost to this world
till some one wakes us up to say "Bedtime!"

Such excursions fill the mind with beautiful fancies and help to
develop that most precious of our faculties, the imagination.

WILLIAM PATTEN.



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