Image: allgemeinfrei,
Wilhelm Grimm und Jacob Grimm, 1847, Daguerreotypie von Hermann Biow.

Human beings are storytellers who live by and are given life by the tales they tell themselves and each other. Stories shape our lives more than we generally know or can even truly imagine. Although bees, ants, and some mammals are also able to use visual signs or speech-like sounds to communicate, Homo sapiens is—as far as we know thus far—the only species with the capacity to use language as a fundamental tool for shaping life in all its dimensions. Humans’ ability to tell stories, like their technical inventiveness and a capacity for economic organization, is of such decisive importance that we can and may speak with considerable justification of Homo narrans, the storytelling creature, as well as of Homo faber and Homo economicus.

When the famous storyteller Salman Rushdie—who was born in India and went to school in England—was still a small boy, his father told him many marvelous stories from the East—stories from One Thousand and One Nights, the Panchatantra, the Kathasaritsagara (the “Ocean of the Streams of Story”), as well as legends and adventure stories featuring mighty heroes. Rushdie gained two unforgettable insights into the question of what it means to grow up with stories. One of the lessons he learned was:

that stories were not true (there were no “real” genies in bottles or flying carpets or wonderful lamps), but by being untrue they could make him feel and know truths that the truth could not tell him, and second, that they all belonged to him, just as they belonged to his father, Anis, and to everyone else, they were all his, as they were his father’s, bright stories and dark stories, sacred stories and profane, his to alter and renew and discard and pick up again as and when he pleased.1

Scheherazade showed him that “stories told against death” can “overcome even the most murderous of tyrants,” and later in his own life he discovered that a story could turn a fanatic into a murderer.2 Stories do not merely narrate life and death but are intimately bound up with life and death and ultimately inexhaustible. Stories give us a feel for who we are. In Salman Rushdie’s phrasing, “Man was the storytelling animal, the only creature on earth that told itself stories to understand what kind of creature it was.”3


Telling and understanding stories is a core human skill acquired during the evolution of human culture. Experiences are passed on by narrating them. Without stories, we could neither draw inspiration from the past nor envision a shape for the future; we would have only the experience of a present in which we would, as it were, subsist from hand to mouth. The sheer variety of narrative content and forms that exist is immensely broad, highly differentiated, and far from easy to survey. Academic disciplines, especially, all have their own distinctive narrative forms, with clear differences between theoretical, empirical, and historical branches of inquiry; the forms closest to the kind of storytelling that seeks to entertain are found in the latter groups. We can do little more than speculate about everything in our past, expressing the results in stories that may then be more or less credible. The further these stories reach back in time, the more challenging it becomes to create them, substantiate them step-by-step, or appraise them. This is naturally all the truer for those long spans of time for which there are no extant written sources.

We do not know how long people have been telling each other tales. This development is a part of the history of human culture that consists of many small stories about progress (and pursuit of lines of inquiry). Each of these stories can be appraised as true, false, or mere speculative conjecture. Even scholars (who normally do not narrate but reflect and argue) ultimately tell stories with the potential to change dramatically and repeatedly whenever new evidence comes to light. Narratives about the origins of tales, too—about their beginnings in time and space, how old they are, and what changes they have undergone—must also, from a scholarly point of view, remain provisional hypotheses. Meta-stories like these are sometimes called “narratives” or “myths,” although the use of “myths” in common parlance refers to stories and legends from the oral tradition about gods and heroes or cosmic creation or collapse. It is true, of course, that many propositions and causal inferences from the scholarly tradition bear a remarkably strong resemblance to traditional myths: they are also (subtle) origin narratives that seek to explain the major and minor details of world events and the thoughts and actions of those involved.

Curiosity about the origins of many mysterious things in our surroundings has hardly been confined to scholarly circles; “common people” have often assuaged their own curiosity by inventing or appropriating tales within their milieus. These “etiological” tales provide mythical or legendary explanations that incorporate fairy-tale or even farcical elements for a wealth of topics. The most diverse phenomena (why all beans have a black seam; how the moon was placed in the sky; why a human lifetime spans seventy years) are explained in stories that usually contain surprises.4 The Mongols, for example, explain the origin of their fairy tales in an origin narrative based on their religious conceptions. This story of a kind person bringing fairy tales to the earth’s surface as the gift of a god of the underworld is an etiology that has emerged out of a shamanic environment.5 In formal terms, the story of the god’s gift to the blind Tarwaa belongs to a hybrid type: as a mythical fairy tale, it suggests that a certain proximity exists between myths and fairy tales.

To search for insights from cultural studies into the origins of fairy tales, we need to engage with the history of human evolution as it is currently narrated—essentially on the basis of insights from evolutionary biology—by writers such as the historian Yuval Noah Harari.6 Harari sees the “Cognitive Revolution” that he estimates to have taken place between seventy thousand and thirty thousand years ago as a pivotal point in human history. This is when Homo sapiens is thought to have developed specific abilities to remember, communicate, learn, and invent, thus providing a basis for individuals to cooperate with peers and work on shared activities in larger groups than before.


Storytelling requires language, the ability of certain kinds of living beings to communicate with each other—by means of sounds or visual signs—about things and circumstances they perceive. Non-human animals are known to use different sounds or sequences of sounds to communicate information and can repeat acoustic signals or gestures, but they deploy these signals only in broadly stereotypical patterns and can scarcely combine them in novel ways. In contrast, human languages—going beyond metaphors that apply mental images to new contexts (a night-black soul, heavenly singing) and references (in which one phenomenon points to another, like dark clouds indicating rain)—make use of words as signs that can detach themselves from specific reference objects and refer to other words, sentences, and texts.

“Tradition” [Überlieferung], the passing down of diverse cultural phenomena and values down through generations, is a complex process, but also a word that can be apprehended in an instant. A language can be understood correctly only by people who do not confuse broad general concepts with designations for specific things and can distinguish symbols from indicators (i.e., indirect from direct statements). Face-to-face communication also has the added dimension that speaking is almost inevitably accompanied and supported by facial expressions, gestures, or some other bodily movements that also require comprehension.

In comparison to the languages of other animals, human language is extremely flexible. A finite number of sounds (and written characters) can produce an infinite number of sentences that all have their own special meanings. While signals repeated in identical form appear reliable, the meanings of words can deceive. This also applies, of course, to the tales formed from words that were initially used—as Harari assumes in his account of human evolution—to exchange gossip. As a form of communication about absent persons, gossip possesses more marked narrative qualities than, say, rumors; gossip seeks not merely to convey information, but also to entertain, and it often has an expressive quality that reveals much about the connection between its purveyor(s) and the people selected as its subjects. Gossip is often concerned with judging individuals within a group. It follows that it does not usually spread beyond a reasonably narrow circle of people (relatives, acquaintances, friends). Gossip’s integrating effects are limited; furthermore, it also serves to marginalize unpopular individuals. Cumulatively, however, these social functions of storytelling could well have created a foundation of trust that made cooperating in larger groups feasible, although (in Harari’s estimation) successful joint projects at this stage would not have involved groups containing more than one hundred fifty people.7

To enable cooperation in even larger groups, a different and more extensive kind of communication is needed: communication not just about what one has seen and heard but about things that do not even exist. Invented stories, in other words, that go beyond tangible reality! Only humans appear to be capable of speculating about possibilities and inventing stories. A language with a capacity for fiction can be used not only to lend color to many things, but also to create shared fictions. Such ideas (about divine beings, national affiliations, or monetary systems) can in turn be assembled into narratives that facilitate flexible cooperation in large groups. While bees or ants can communicate using rigid schemes, and chimpanzees can only interact with a few close members of their immediate community, humans are able to communicate and cooperate with large numbers of strangers. Shared stories make this possible.

People—and we should be very clearly aware of this—are nothing less than “entangled in stories”: as narrators of what has been handed down to them and of their own experiences, and as the subject matter of their own storytelling about the past, the present, or even the future. This entanglement is fundamental, because, in the words of the philosopher Wilhelm Schapp, “what we know about people are their stories and the stories that are told about them.”8


How exactly should we conceive of this process of forming stories from words? Most everyday stories are, as Hermann Bausinger understands them, offshoots that develop from conversations. Storytelling requires a certain amount of calm, a somewhat relaxed attitude on the part of the narrator and the listener, and a reservoir of mental images. Our memories and latent desires consist essentially of sensory contours. These memories and vague yearnings take shape only when they are expressed in language. A first sentence gets the story on track—or rather opens up some possible tracks and cuts off others. With each new sentence formulated, the scope for shaping how the narrative continues becomes more constricted—but using (mental) images widens it again. Sentences that consolidate information about past and current events can even become traps that imprison narratives. Other sentences, by contrast, transport narrators to new visual scenes and plot resolutions.9

Storytelling is social action and shapes social action. As Harari illustrates with various examples, every ambitious human endeavor is rooted in shared stories that exist only in people’s minds. These products of the imagination (religious systems, nations, money) can only exert effects in the real world because we act as if they existed. Inventing plausible and compelling stories is admittedly far from easy. Unlike a lie, an “imagined reality is something that everyone believes in” and the result is that imagined realities have real power in the real world for as long as the beliefs about them persist.10 Patterns of human cooperation can be reshaped by making changes to the underlying myths, for example, by giving a new founding legend to an association of states or changing the target projections for an economic project. People think their way through ever more complex situations and contexts with the help of “fictive” linguistic constructs, especially in scholarly research disciplines. Each new generation of scholars reworks, advances, or expands on the “language games” of its predecessors.

The broad field of cultural studies is essentially comprised of a tightly woven web of stories that have been substantiated to a greater or lesser degree. In the specialist discipline within their realm that focuses specifically on examining the oral tradition, the stories are highly diverse. In a first step, two broad narrative complexes need to be distinguished: (1) The larger group encompasses stories that aim to present and explain material that is real, tangible, or factual—or at least relates to real conditions that can be perceived by human senses. (2) The smaller group encompasses stories that present entirely imaginary scenarios and are completely unconcerned with external realities. The prototypes offered by genre theory for the first group include reports, treatises, epics, and legends. Fantasy, fairy tales, and farces are genres that exemplify the characteristics of the second group. The first group tends to adopt a more sober style of reporting and the second group typically embraces more embellishments and entertaining elements. From a formal point of view, a wealth of specific narrative forms (epic, anecdote, legend, joke) and types of formulaic language (proverb, idiom) can be slotted into a rough grid between myths and metaphors with voluminous “true stories” at one end and minimalistic “visual snapshots” at the other. The proverb “A lie has no legs” encapsulates a common everyday experience (that lies cannot stand on their own and tend to eventually be exposed or disproven) in an image (now generally not perceived) that contains a story in a nutshell.11

All narrative forms are historical products—results yielded by cultural development, in other words, but not in the sense that their history as genres can be recounted with any certainty in its specifics (apart from genres of such recent provenance as the modern short story). Genres are always abstract concepts that elude sensory perception. They are developed with the benefit of hindsight and on the basis of reflection in order to formally structure the complex world of storytelling and create an overview that facilitates a better understanding of it.


We will now focus on the group of “unrealistic” stories that are not directly linked to the real world, and here specifically on fairy tales [Märchen12], which will need to be distinguished more precisely over the course of time from various adjacent genres: fables and farces, sagas and legends, and tall tales and parodies. Our search for fairy tales is inevitably (and always) colored by our contemporary perspective and thus reflects a conventional characterization of “fairy tales” with which we are all more or less familiar, albeit generally unconsciously.

A “Tale of Two Brothers” recorded on an Egyptian papyrus from the thirteenth century BCE is often cited as the oldest completely preserved wonder tale.13 It contains numerous references to magical transformations and was generally regarded by earlier generations of researchers as a literary adaptation of various stories and myths from the oral tradition. One can reasonably assume that stories with characteristics of fairy tales were told outside ancient Egypt and also much earlier, probably well before the invention of hieroglyphics and even before the earliest known writing system, namely, the cuneiform script invented by the Sumerians in the fourth millennium BCE. The earliest written records there contained only notes and marks made by the city’s economic administrators. They were not yet texts in a form that allowed for the conservation of spoken language for posterity.

The intellectual cosmos that existed before the age of writing will forever remain closed off to us, along with its narrative cosmos, and can only be accessed—as mentioned above—by means of (imaginative) stories. And stories (in scholarly language: theses and hypotheses) are abundant, especially as they relate to fairy tales. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when legends and fairy tales were increasingly being perceived as specific narrative forms and not only being separately collected in dedicated collections but also being provisionally defined, attempts to capture their nature were based on a extensive web of hypotheses of which scholars were only partially aware.14

Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) laid the initial foundations with his assertion that “natural poetry” existed alongside consciously wrought “artistic poetry.” This distinction was soon taken up by Jacob Grimm (1785–1863), who understood it as an “eternally founded” difference between the poetry of the educated and the uneducated.15 “Natural poetry,” as the Brothers Grimm understood it, was not only the more deeply-rooted and authentic kind of poetry but essentially also the “right” kind: it was contrasted favorably with rationally formed literature and prized for its naive expression and its elementary, sensual nature. As natural poetry came to be equated with folk poetry, the stories that ordinary people told (and were still telling) in their everyday lives—especially fairy tales—began to seem especially valuable and garnered considerable attention. This theory of natural poetry and folk poetry soon became closely linked with an additional theory that focused on the oral transmission process by which this poetry was passed down: despite all its propensity to change (variability), it appeared to maintain an astonishing degree of fidelity (stability) and longevity (continuity). From the beginning of the nineteenth century right up to, quite often, the present day, extreme consistency—not merely over centuries, but even over millennia— has frequently been attributed to the folk tradition. This double theory of a quasi-natural folk poetry transmitted via an unswerving oral tradition led to a de-historicization of the material that was being collected; the stories found circulating among the “folk” appeared to be essentially timeless. Philologists and historians who looked more closely at these tales, however, noticed that some of them did indeed contain references to time and place—historical signals, in other words. This led the Brothers Grimm to distinguish two groups of stories, a group independent of historical time (the “more poetic” fairy tales), and a group of “more historical” legends with links to specific times and places.16

The establishment of the legends as a separate category marked the beginning of a harmonization process for the genre of the fairy tale, a process that the Brothers Grimm, especially, advanced further with their stylistic standardizations. Their selection of fairy tales was oriented toward stories with features such as single-line plots, formulaic introductions and conclusions, and the rule of three (characters, means of enchantment, and magical episodes tending to come in triples). Furthermore, their own additions and adaptations (whenever and wherever they deemed it appropriate) made the genre more uniform, as well. The upshot was that the form taken by the Children’s and Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm—the stories that nineteenth-century collectors widely regarded as a model collection of fairy tales , which in turn exercised a decisive influence on future searching for the origins of fairy tales—was the product of a complex process of de-historicization and harmonization that was, incidentally, also continued by Johannes Bolte (1858–1937) and Georg Polívka (1858–1933) in their Notes on the tales and by Max Lüthi (1909–1991), the twentieth-century scholar of fairy tales with the most compelling arguments.17


The Brothers Grimm viewed fairy tales as shards of a shattered gemstone (specifically, as remnants of Germanic myths). Many scholars investigating the origin of fairy tales have since followed them in this direction or thought along similar lines but drawn on other bodies of mythology, such as the myths of a different Indo-European people like the Celts or a more specific body of nature, astral, lunar, or solar mythology. Other scholars have instead favored a polygenetic theory.18 The polygenetic approach, which is rooted in anthropology, perceives fairy tales as expressing such fundamental human traits that the stories can arise anywhere in the world and re-emerge in different eras. Most research into the origin of folktales has drawn on the comparative method developed by philologists and applied principles developed for comparing written texts to the area of oral lore. Researchers have zoned in, above all, on individual motifs in tales (and interpreted them liberally as “identical” or “characteristic.”) Structural parallels in the stories compared have attracted hardly any attention.

Borne along by the positivist trend toward the end of the nineteenth century, Nordic narratologists, in particular, derived a “geographical-historical method” from the comparative method that organized the history of the evolution of individual fairy tale types according to spatial and temporal categories by organizing all the available versions (including literary versions and sometimes also illustrations) into a structure that revealed the “original home,” time of genesis, and often even the “original version” of a tale.19 The results attained using this method led, for instance, to the origins of the farcical tale “Kaiser und Abt” (The Emperor and the Abbot) being traced to an early seventh-century Jewish community in the Middle East. Many details from these results have been criticized or refuted.20 It is almost self-evident that historical processes cannot feasibly be reconstructed by emphasizing only the elements of tradition that persist and ignoring the innovative changes that result from the spontaneity and creativity of individual bearers of tradition. But since its slow emergence in the nineteenth century, narrative research has displayed a fascination with unchanging continuity over vast spans of time that has blinded scholars to dynamic aspects of historical change.

An example from the second half of the twentieth century may illustrate this: August Nitschke (1926–2019), a well-respected historian in his main fields of expertise, concluded from his analysis of the social orders and patterns of behavior in fairy tales that the “Machandelboom” [The Juniper Tree] story, which the Grimm Brothers included in their collection, dates back to Neolithic times; that the tales of “Aschenputtel” [Cinderella] and “Allerleirauh” [All-Kinds-of Fur] can be attributed to hunters and herders after the last ice age; and that the tale of “Hansel and Gretel” originated among farmers and fishers “confronted with the eeriness of woods and water” during the Mesolithic period.21 These unsophisticated conclusions—which are representative of a large number of similar ideas advanced by Nitschke—give an impression of how the thinking in his book latches on to unspecific analogies without applying high standards of source criticism to the contextualization of texts. At the same time, they also show how, even in our own time, a historian and his audience can still hold deeply ingrained and unreflected stereotypical beliefs about a fairy tale tradition that is taken to have remained unchanged for thousands of years.

This kind of reasoning based on assumptions about social conditions in prehistorical or historical times has ultimately been typical for every generation of researchers since the early nineteenth century. Researchers have proceeded by isolating individual motifs in tales that are known today and tracing them back to periods in ancient or medieval history on the basis of having uncovered similar motifs in the literature from those earlier periods. These are then deemed—assuming continuity of transmission—to be the forerunners of and the stimulus for the tales in their current versions. Much more rarely, and with little lasting success, have scholars suggested the possibility of development in the other direction—i.e., that the motifs found in literature might provide starting points for an opaque and convoluted oral tradition. Proponents of this idea included Theodor Benfey (1809–1881), who saw Indian literature as a model for European fairy tales as early as 1859, and later Albert Wesselski (1871–1939), who interpreted medieval tales from the literary genre of the exemplum as narrative impulses.22

The opposite view was advocated by the American folklorists who still believed after the Second World War that the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel (considered to have a virtually unchangeable core) had supplied the model for the Circe episode in the Odyssey and even that Homer’s deployment of the ship’s rudder motif in the prophecy of Tiresias, whom Odysseus encounters in Hades, was merely an embellishment on Homer’s part (more than two and a half millennia ago!) of a seafarer’s tale not recorded before 1956.23

The question of how old fairy tales are cannot be answered without addressing other fundamental questions. Does one understand fairy tales as products of the past (as inventions of anonymous storytellers, as variable retellings that have emerged from the process of transmission, as borrowings from literature) or as an elementary expression of the human psyche? And can one determine specific areas of origin for the entire genre or only for specific themes?24 It is clear, at any rate, that one must begin by examining individual fairy tales (perhaps as types that can be meaningfully characterized) before it becomes possible to draw any more general conclusions about the genre. Working from this perspective, it can be acknowledged, at a minimum, that oral transmission of individual traditional fairy tales over at least three generations has been demonstrated in numerous cases, but also that conclusive evidence exists for quite a few fairy tales being based on the inventions of single individuals (who may in some cases also have drawn on stores of imagery supplied by their personal dream experiences). In this light, it is clear that the origin of fairy tales is hardly a completely homogeneous phenomenon with a monocausal explanation.


Does this mean that modern fairy tale researchers are inextricably caught up in the present day’s tortuously tangled web of scholarly stories about fairy tale origins? Is it impossible to identify even a few phases in the history of the evolution of the genre? All is not lost—we only need to take a closer look at the parameters which govern the insights available to us. This means, to begin with, that we need to account for the historical evolution and the flexibility of the fairy tale as a genre designation since its first emergence around the dawn of the nineteenth century, and over the course of its subsequent refinement, with various shifts in emphasis along the way. We also need to appraise the body of sources available with a critical eye and reflect more deeply on the methodologies used. The comparative method tends to produce vague and inadequate results when it fails to take formal aspects into account along with content, and the vast majority of older interpretations of fairy tales made precisely this mistake.

In addition to comparing fairy tale motifs, scholars should pay at least as much, if not more, attention to structural elements , especially as fairy tales are structurally far more complex than, say, legends. There were multiple such attempts in the structuralism era, but the results were not satisfactory from a historical perspective. As mentioned above, scholars postulated that fairy tales arose at an early point in the cultural evolution of humanity and out of specific living environments. Some authors discerned relations of production in fairy tales that led them to view the tales as having emerged from patriarchal tribal societies (or their disintegration). Rather than assuming that the form of fairy tales remains essentially stable over time, some scholars advanced the hypothesis that what were initially basic, simple tales of magic could evolve over time in response to new social conditions such as changed forms of marriage.25

The view that the fixation of stories in literary form could have significantly determined the development of popular narrative forms from quite early on was long a rather niche minority position in cultural studies. In Western culture, for example, one could start with the story of Cupid and Psyche in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius from the second century CE, since this marks the beginning of a history of fairy tales that can be based on solid source criticism.26 This history then stretches across many “empty” centuries during the early medieval period and into the high medieval period until a consolidated narrative tradition with elements that are characteristic for fairy tales becomes clearly visible in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The existence of a starting point in upper Italian cities such as Florence and Venice—in the literary works of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) and Giovanni Francesco Straparola (ca. 1480–ca. 1558)—and a somewhat later continuation in Naples in the widely read “tales of tales” (Pentamerone) by Giambattista Basile (1583–1622) was clearly highlighted a few years ago.27 This Italian entertainment literature was followed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the literarization of fairy tales in France, for example by Charles Perrault (1628–1703), and this in turn influenced German Enlightenment writers to narrate fairy stories in the eighteenth century, a tradition that was further transformed in the era of Romanticismin the realms of both “high literature” and “folk literature.”28

It was in the modern era in Europe that the conception of fairy tales as popular oral folk tales (Volksmärchen) gradually emerged and came to prevail. The genre gained its profile not only by means of processes of transmission and borrowing, but also (and to an even greater degree) from various selection processes or, to be more precise, from two processes of differentiation which excluded, on the one hand, legends and farcical stories and, on the other, literary fairy tales that now came to be described using the newly coined term Kunstmärchen. The contributions of the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859) were a major factor in this process that still stands out today, especially those of Wilhelm, who worked continuously over the course of his lifetime to refine the style of their collected Children’s and Household Tales.29

Folk tales—as a whole, not just the tales presented by the Brothers Grimm—are essentially all creative products wrought by individual personalities gifted with imagination and then successively “told into shape” in the oral transmission process—regardless of where or who the initial story came from—gradually taking on “typical” forms that could be easily committed to memory. The more research clarifies the convoluted interdependencies, borrowings, and adaptations in the fairy tale tradition of the European modern era, at any rate, the more clearly visible an essentially “literary” legacy of fairy tales becomes—and the more strongly the selective perception and the definitions and categories of the fairy tale researchers themselves remain entangled in a history of fairy tales that spans the whole world.


To summarize: Individual fairy tale motifs probably existed in oral storytelling even before the invention of writing (for how long?), but entire fairy tale narratives cannot be determined before they were first fixed in writing. More concretely, this suggests that fairy tales can only be traced back around four thousand years in the East, although the extent to which one includes narrative fragments and distinguishes fairy tales from myths is a matter of definition. In the European context, however, it hardly seems realistic to see a degree of continuity in the transmission of tales before the late Middle Ages. One can thus scarcely speak of a history of the evolution of fairy tales in Europe before then. Fascination with all things “ancient” is, in any case, a historical artifact of the nineteenth century; age is hardly valuable for its own sake. Hypothetical attributions of age should probably not be given more weight than perceptions of quality. Fairy tales are, first and foremost, meaningful—adventurous wonder tales that stand out from the broad stream of human storytelling by virtue of their effectiveness. They ultimately derive their value from their existence in the present and not from their past.


  1. Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir (New York 2012), 19.↩︎

  2. Ibid., 19.↩︎

  3. Ibid., 19.↩︎

  4. The examples are taken from three folktales collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in the 1856 edition of their Kinder- und Hausmärchen [Children’s and Household Tales]: “Strohhalm, Kohle und Bohne” [The Journey Of The Straw, The Coal, And The Bean, KHM 18], “Der Mond” [The Moon, KHM 175], and “Die Lebenszeit” [The Duration of Life, KHM 176].↩︎

  5. “Wie die Mongolen zu ihren Märchen kamen,” in Kristin Wardetzky and Dirk Nowakowski, eds., Kinder schaffen das: Märchen von mutigen und klugen Jungen und Mädchen aus aller Welt (Münster 2021), 125–126.↩︎

  6. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, trans. Yuval Noah Harari, John Purcell, and Haim Watzman (London 2015).↩︎

  7. Ibid., ch. 2.↩︎

  8. Wilhelm Schapp, In Geschichten verstrickt: Zum Sein von Mensch und Ding, 2nd ed. (Wiesbaden 1976), 100; See also Albrecht Lehmann, Reden über Erfahrung: Kulturwissenschaftliche Bewusstseinsanalyse des Erzählens (Berlin 2007); Samira El Ouassil and Friedemann Karig, Erzählende Affen: Mythen, Lügen, Utopien: Wie Geschichten unser Leben bestimmen (Berlin 2021).↩︎

  9. Hermann Bausinger, Vom Erzählen: Poesie des Alltags (Stuttgart 2022), esp. 15–57.↩︎

  10. Harari, Sapiens, esp. 35.↩︎

  11. Translator’s note: The proverb cited in the original German text (Lügen haben kurze Beinen) actually says that lies have short legs (not “no legs”), but the implications are the same.↩︎

  12. Translator’s note: It bears mention here that, unlike the English designation of this genre, the German word Märchen in fact means “little tale” and does not reference fairies.↩︎

  13. Karel Horálek, “Brüdermärchen: Das ägyptische B.,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens. Handwörterbuch zur historischen und vergleichenden Erzählforschung, ed. Kurt Ranke et al., vol. 2 (Berlin 1979), cols. 925–940.↩︎

  14. Ludolph Beckedorff: “Vorrede,” in Friedrich Gottschalck, ed., Die Sagen und Volksmährchen der Deutschen, vol. 1 (Halle 1814), cited in Helge Gerndt, Sagen – Fakt, Fiktion oder Fake? Eine kurze Reise durch zweifelhafte Geschichten vom Mittelalter bis heute (Münster 2020), 39–40.↩︎

  15. Jacob Grimm, “Gedanken: Wie sich die Sagen zur Poesie und Geschichte verhalten,” in Zeitung für Einsiedler (Heidelberg 1808), 152–156.↩︎

  16. Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, eds., Deutsche Sagen, vol. 1, 3rd ed. (Berlin 1891; repr. Munich 1965), 7–8; cited in Helge Gerndt, Sagen – Fakt, Fiktion, 40.↩︎

  17. Johannes Bolte and Georg Polívka, eds., Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm, vols. 1–5 (Leipzig 1913–1932); Max Lüthi, Das europäische Volksmärchen: Form und Wesen (Bern 1947). Available in English as: Max Lüthi, The European Folk Tale: Form and Nature, trans. John D. Niles (Philadelphia 1982); see also many more of Lüthi’s books, most recently: Max Lüthi, Das Volksmärchen als Dichtung: Ästhetik und Anthropologie, 2nd rev. ed. (Göttingen 1990). Available in English (in an earlier version) as: Max Lüthi, The Fairytale as Art Form and Portrait of Man, trans. Jon Erickson (Bloomington 1984).↩︎

  18. For more detail on the various groups of people and bodies of myths considered and for more on the polygenesis hypothesis, see the relevant headwords in Enzyklopädie des Märchens.↩︎

  19. Lutz Röhrich, “Geographisch-historische Methode,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 5 (Berlin 1987), cols. 1012–1030.↩︎

  20. Wilhelm F. H. Nicolaisen, “Kaiser und Abt,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 7 (Berlin 1993), cols. 845–852; Walter Anderson, Kaiser und Abt: Die Geschichte eines Schwanks (Helsinki 1923).↩︎

  21. August Nitschke, Soziale Ordnungen im Spiegel der Märchen, vols. 1–2 (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1976–1977).↩︎

  22. Georg von Simson, “Benfey, Theodor,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 2 (Berlin 1979), cols. 102–109; Ulrich Marzolph, “Wesselski, Albert,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 14 (Berlin 2014), cols. 652–656.↩︎

  23. Dietz-Rüdiger Moser, “Die Homerische Frage und das Problem der mündlichen Überlieferung aus volkskundlicher Sicht,” in Fabula 20 (1979): 116–136.↩︎

  24. Dietz-Rüdiger Moser, “Altersbestimmung des Märchens,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 1 (Berlin 1977), cols. 407–419.↩︎

  25. Helge Gerndt, “Zaubermärchen,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 14 (Berlin 2014), cols. 1182–1189.↩︎

  26. Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses, trans. E.J. Kenney (London 1998); Detlev Fehling, Amor und Psyche: Die Schöpfung des Apuleius und ihre Einwirkung auf das Märchen. Eine Kritik der romantischen Märchentheorie (Wiesbaden 1977).↩︎

  27. Ruth B. Bottigheimer, Fairy Tales: A New History (Albany 2009); Rudolf Schenda, “Basiles Pentamerone. Ein Nachwort,” in Giambattista Basile, Das Märchen der Märchen: Das Pentamerone, trans. Hanno Helbling, Alfred Messerli, Johann Pögl, Dieter Richter, Luisa Rubini, Rudolf Schenda, and Doris Senn, ed. Rudolf Schenda (Munich 2000), 477–511.↩︎

  28. Günter Dammann, “Conte de(e) fées,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 3 (Berlin 1981), cols. 131–149; Hermann Bausinger, “Aufklärung,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens, vol. 1 (Berlin 1977), cols. 972–983.↩︎

  29. On this, see most recently: Axel Winzer, Permanente Metamorphosen: Neues zur Verlags- und Editionsgeschichte der Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm (Kassel 2021); Lubomír Sůva, Der tschechische Himmel liegt in der Hölle. Märchen von Božena Němcová und den Brüdern Grimm im Vergleich (Ilmtal-Weinstraße 2022), esp. 14–58.↩︎

This article is a translation and was originally published in German as:

Helge Gerndt, “In Geschichten verstrickt oder: Wie alt sind unsere Märchen?”, in Bayerisches Jahrbuch für Volkskunde 2023, 15-23.