The fairy tale world is all aflutter with the news coming to us via The Guardian (UK) that five hundred fairy tales have awakened from a one hundred and fifty year slumber in their castle surrounded by a thorn thicket.
OK, they were in thirty some boxes collecting dust in a municipal archive in Regensburg, Germany. The prince who slashed his way through the thorn thicket … ahem, the researcher who slashed her way through the thorn thicket was the scholar Erika Eichenseer. That happened around 2008. In 2010 she published a book, Prinz Roßwifl, (in German) with selections from this archive, a work apparently now out of print. We (English speakers) belatedly heard about it because of the Guardian article that has a link to one of the tales, “The Turnip Princess,” translated into English.
In this raw and disjointed tale, a lost prince takes shelter in a cave, where he is entrapped by a witch. With the witch are a bear and a dog. The dog disappears entirely from the tale, but the bear is central. He tells the prince to pull a rusty nail from the cave wall to break the spell over the bear and then to place the nail under a turnip, thereby finding a bride.
Alas, a monster (whom we never hear of again either after its first appearance) frightens the prince out of the turnip field. The nail is lost and the prince falls into a deep, long slumber. Upon awakening, the prince seeks the nail, eventually finding it one morning in the shell of a turnip he had pierced with a blackthorn branch the evening before. He sees, imprinted on the inside of the turnip shell, the shape of a beautiful girl.
Returning to the cave, he reinserts the nail into the wall, evoking the witch and the bear. The witch turns out to be the beautiful girl from the turnip and the bear the prince’s father. The nail disappears in a burst of flame.
OK, then. Who collected this one? Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (this link is in German. If you are using Google Cromo it will offer to translate). And who was he? An avid collector of Bavarian folk tales, legends, traditions, and customs. The Grimms had high regard for Von Schönwerth. Jacob reportedly told King Maximilian II of Bavaria that only Von Schönwerth could replace him and his brother given Von Schönwerth’s accuracy, thoroughness, and sensitivity. This was not a recommendation, but rather an observation. The King knew Von Schönwerth very well. Von Schönwerth had been his private secretary before the King’s accession, then his cabinet chief, and later a councilor in the Financial Ministry. Cushy jobs apparently, allowing Von Schönwerth to wander around the countryside collecting thirty boxes worth of notes on peasant life. He put some of it into three volumes called Aus der Oberpfalz — Sitten und Sagen (available as a free Kindle book on Amazon). It slipped quickly into obscurity despite the Grimms’ enthusiasm for his work.
If the fairy dust raised by all the recent fuss made about these tales has settled on you, as it has on me, you will want to know more. Maria Tatar has something to say about it in her blog on the New Yorker site and Jack Zipes has weighed in from Sussex. Both of these are informative reads.