Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Turnip Princess is here and it's great

So, remember that one Guardian article from 2012 that some people still post on your Facebook wall every other week? It's titled "Five hundred new fairy tales discovered in Germany!" Well, good news: the much-awaited English translation is finally here!
Well, actually, a bilingual German-English volume has been out since last year, but the new book, titled The Turnip Princess, adds another batch of sixty-something tales now available in English. Yay!
I have probably waited the publication of this book with more excitement than most people wait for the new Star Wars movie. My boyfriend ordered it for me as a late birthday present (because for some reason not all folktale collections are published on my birthday, which is a crying shame). I devoured the entire volume in two days, and my copy now looks like this:

In which green slips stand for stories I want to tell (14), orange slips stand for stories that are also included in the other volume (7), and pink slips stand for notable moments. I have been busy.
The edition itself is very well done. Stellar intro from Maria Tatar (Hungarian pride!), extensive and thought-provoking notes on each tale, and an appendix with archive numbers, folktale types, and places of collection. Everything a storyteller can wish for.

And now, for some of the highlights!

1. Even though Tatar claims it's "not part of the European canon," the story of King Goldenlocks is actually a version of The Golden-haired gardener, a Hungarian folktale I just told two months ago at the Tenerife storytelling festival. I have never known another version of it, so I was delighted to find one in here!
2. Similarly, The Flying Trunk proved to be another variation of a Hungarian folktale that I included in my own book (The Winged Prince), and never found another version of. It is also a Cinderfella story where a prince loses a boot...
3. I was most excited about the Dung Beetle Prince tale that was teased in some of the articles, and it turned out to be the most adorable little story. I won't spoil it, but it's great.
4. There is a great number of tales in the volume that feature wood sprites, wood nymphs, gnomes, mermaids, and other mythical creatures, and most of them seem to be on amicable terms with humans. The darker steak is reserved for the mermaids who destroy mortals by loving them; but the woodland creatures are generally helpful and friendly, and revel a less known side of German folklore.
5. There is a version of the Pied Piper in this book (The Mousecatcher, or the Boy and the Beetle) that picks up where the children disappear inside the mountain. Think about that for a moment.
6. This volume (and the other one as well) features a tale that is a full-blown prequel to the popular "Tall, Wide and Sharpsight" folktale type, explaining how the magical helpers in these stories originally received their abilities. Yup. It's a superhero origin story, and it's titled Sir Wind and His Wife.
7. There is a tale of mortal girls marrying ice giants and living happily ever after.
8. At the end of a "Valiant Little Tailor" type story the princess refuses to be given as a prize and makes plans to murder the hero she is forced to marry.
9. There is a magical procedure described for turning a dragon back into a princess. (People get turned into some weird things in this book - among others weasels, tortoises, beetles, and little fish.)
10. There are several recognizable elements of pagan mythology, such as a folktale version of Freya's necklace.
11. More than one story deals with why people should not torture animals or vandalize trees. The tree one (The Singing Tree) gets especially creative in driving the point home.

Definitely a recommended read for storytellers.


  1. I just got my copy. Thanks for the notes!

  2. Putting it on my 'must have' list. Can't wait to dive into it.

  3. Love the title, and dung beetles are incredible little creatures, so I'm glad you pointed out that story.

  4. A wonderful book - in fact, I own both of these books, the translation by Maria Tatar and the translation (dual-language book) by M. Charlotte Wolf titled, "Original Bavarian Folktales: A Schönwerth Selection." Since Wolf's translation came out in 2014, I have been working on psychological interpretations of these really fascinating tales that Schönwerth collected. For storytellers, listeners and avid interpreters like myself, these books are a fantastic addition to our collections!