The Blue Fairy Book - online childrens book

Illustrated classic fairy tales for children by Andrew Lang

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xvi                                FAIRY TALES
Marchen, or in the Jason legend. But literature, again, descends occasionally among the people, as Oriental stories found their way into mediaeval sermons, and so fragments of epic, or novel, or even of history, become Marchen once more. To take another example, the Perseus epic legend is a tissue of fairy tales, though Pindar made it into an ode, and Simonides furnished Danae with a song. In this volume (' The Terrible Head ') I have tried to reconstruct the original nursery tale, chiefly by dropping the local and personal names, winch, doubtless, were added to an old impersonal and unlocated story by the Greeks in Argos and Seriphos. The action of the gods, too, was probably an addition. In the original the hero probably acted like Jack the Giant Killer : ' he furnished himself with a sword of sharpness, shoes of swiftness, and an invisible coat.' How did he ' furnish himself' with these rare properties ? The English chap-book author never thinks of asking, but Greek epic legend made them the gifts of Hermes and Athene. The best English versions of the old Greek fairy tales are, doubtless, Kingsley's The Heroes, and Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales. But so much turns, in Greek fable, on divine amours, intro­duced to give the royal Achaean houses a divine descent, that it is never easy to make them intelligible to children.
The old authors who first approached these traditions in a spirit of inquiry, authors hke Charles Perrault, were more or less right in saying that most nursery stories had a moral intention. ' East of the Sun and West of the Moon' has a moral intention so archaic that it is no longer intelligible except to students. Why is the lassie severed from her lover ? Because she broke an ancient and world-wide tabu on the conduct of married people. She saw her husband ! In other forms of the tale she calls him by his name, a thing still forbidden to Zulu women. As these old absurd rules of conduct become forgotten, the moral is merely the punishment of disobedience, even when the command is un-
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