While the Brothers Grimm were compiling the iconic fairy tales of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, another German historian by the name Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was also chronicling local folklore, but his legacy was all but forgotten until researches uncovered a treasure trove of writings that had been missing for over 150 years.
how does someone’s highly praised work nearly vanish from existence?
The German town of Regensburg had been the secret home to a collection of 500 fairy tales complied by Von Schönwerth in the late 1800’s. At the time his work was praised by many, including Jacob Grimm, who in 1885 stated: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.”
So how does someone’s highly praised work nearly vanish from existence?
During his decades of work in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz, Von Schönwerth published three volumes of his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz — Sitten und Sagen, but they never gained much attention at the time, leaving them to slowly disappear into the unknown.
Several years ago, while sifting through some of Von Schönwerth’s work, these volumes of work were rediscovered by Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer, and the hope was that the vast collection of work would gain new life.
“Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately”
Many of the stories were complete unknowns, including a tale of a maiden who transforms herself into a pond to escape a witch. In classic fairy tale fashion, the witch drinks up the water, swallowing the maiden, but is gruesomely killed when the girl takes a knife and cuts her way out. If you are at all familiar with the original versions of the Grimm tales, this violence is completely normal and expected.
Not all of the 500 tales were completely new though. Von Schönwerth’s collection included some new variations of popular tales (Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, etc) also chronicled by the Brothers Grimm. Like his counterparts, Von Schönwerth’s work consists of tales passed on by word of mouth over generations by locals in area villages. The stories may be similar, but the local traditions, culture and history provide new life to the tales.
Some of Von Schönwerth’s work can be found in smaller volumes today, but since their discovery, he still remains unknown by many. If you’re a fan of the tales passed on by the Brothers Grimm, you may want to get your hands on these new stories. If you want a sample, The Guardian published one of the tales, The Turnip Princess, shortly after the volumes discovery.