Mr Alexander Macbain,
M.A., of Raining’s School, thereafter read a paper on “Popular Tales.”
Here follows Mr Macbain’s paper:—
The first characteristic
of folk-tale is its frank disregard of the ordinary conditions of our
existence, and its equally frank belief in the human kinship of the
whole world—animate and inanimate, The hero, in his seven-league boots,
or on his wind-outstripping steed, annihilates space and time with
almost electric speed, and sea and land are the same to him; for his
boots and his steed can carry him with equal ease over both—nay, his
powers of jumping fiery or prickly hedges, or of springing from his
spear point to the window of his fair one high aloft in the towers, show
scant respect to the law of gravitation. Animals have a human reason,
and often a power of speech; indeed, they appear in the tales as far
more intelligent and knowing than the heroes, for it is generally by
their means they perform, or are kept from performing, those wonderful
tasks they have been called upon to accomplish. Dogs, birds, frogs, and
all animals speak on occasions; and more than this, they may marry the
heroes or the heroines! Not only are I animals humanised, or made to act
like human beings, but all nature besides, plants and trees, stocks and
stones, mountain and fell, wind and rain and sky, the sun and the
moon—all are alive with the life and spirit we see in man and beast. A
piece of apple or a human spittle answers to enquiries put. The stones
of the earth tell Luga of the Long Arms that his father is buried
beneath where they are. “Here thy father lies, O Luga; grievous was
Kian’s strait when he was forced to take the shape of a pig on seeing
the three sons of Turenn.” And as here, men may turn themselves, or be
turned, into animals; and more than that, they may even be turned into
plant, tree, stone, or any inanimate object, and still retain reason and
power of self-recovery, or of being recovered by others. A hero or
heroine may become an animal, beast or bird or fish or insect; he or she
may become a ship or a sword or a ladder, as the exigencies of the
occasion may demand. People’s hearts and people’s strength may lie in
some object or other, either about their own person, or well hidden
somewhere else. Giants may have no heart in their body ; a hero’s
strength may be, Samson-like, in his hair, or his prowess may depend on
an old knapsack, a hat, and a horn. The life of this earth is not
differentiated from the life beyond. Heroes pay flying visits to the
realms of the departed; nay, a tailor, neither good nor honest, may
accidentally squeeze himself into heaven, and sitting on the best chair
he saw there—the Throne of the most High, for the occupant happened to
be away—he may see an old woman washing clothes down on earth at a
stream, and secretly stealing handkerchiefs, and he may throw the
footstool at her head in his virtuous wrath. Social life in these tales
takes peculiar features. We have kings and queens and princes as our
commonest acquaintances; gorgeous palaces, with surfeit of gold and
silver, are our usual places of rest and abode. Families have a habit of
going in threes, the youngest of whom is the best; step-mothers are
nearly always wicked, and always witches; stepchildren are always
ill-treated. Husbands and wives get separated over the infringement of
some command, or the unwitting breaking of some mystic rule. In the
Gaelic tale of the Hoodie, the husband, who had already been a hoodie
and had been rescued by the bride from this form, asks her, as they
proceed in a coach to one of their country houses, whether she had
fogotten anything, and she said, “I forgot my coarse comb.” “The coach
in which they were fell a withered faggot, and he went away as a hoodie.”
Such are the leading characteristics of the popular or folk-tales. There
is pervading all over their world a supernatural power which manifests
itself in magic and enchantments, and no higher power is known ; and to
this power of magic, embodied in the medicine man of modem savage life,
and in the wicked and in the wise ones of the folk-tales, all else must
bow and yield.
Many interesting problems
spring up in connection with these folk-tales, and the very first is,
“What is the origin and meaning of them?" And when we find that similar
tales—the same in plot, and practically the same in incidents and
characters—exist among all the nations of Europe and parts of Asia, some
even being found still more widely distributed, appearing in savage
lands, it becomes a question of first importance how these tales were
diffused through so many peoples. Did they start up independently in the
different countries, or were they directly borrowed by one people from
another, or did they filter slowly through the nations, starting each
from some one place? And, when we have considered these questions, the
relationship of these tales to the mythology, religion, and folk-lore of
a people comes forward for settlement. Were the folk-tales—or rather,
the predecessors of our modem folktales—were they developed into myths
at times, and did they thus become mythology, or did mythology break
down and become popular tales, or did both processes take place? These
last questions, as can be seen, are intimately connected with the first
question we have to ask, and answer if possible, viz., “What is the
origin of these tales?"
To answer these
questions, as far as they can be answered in our present state of
knowledge, we must adopt the methods of science, and first begin with a
classification of our materials. And, first, let us fix the place of the
folk-tale itself among its kindred tales of mythology and imagination.
By mythology we mean the belief in a supernatural order, which real
knowledge causes us to regard as non-existent. Myths propose
unscientific—that is, forged or invented—answers to such questions as
the origin of man, the origin of the world, of the stars, the sun, and
the moon. How was fire discovered? What was the origin of death? These
are some of its questions. Mythology is, therefore, founded on the same
impulse and necessity as our science ; it attempts to explain man and
It is, therefore,
essentially explanatory; it gives a working hypothesis of phenomena
around and beyond. The folk-tale is not explanatory—it is literary.
Mythology and religion are practical, but the folk-tale is artistic. It
may point a moral, or convey warnings as to taboo, but it is essentially
a tale. Fables and tales in regard to beasts or natural objects that
immediately and obviously arise from the habits and characteristics of
these, do not belong properly to our subject. Beast fables, with all
stories that are intended to convey a moral, or explain a natural fact,
must now be excluded from our investigation. The origin of these is
easily understood, and they may arise naturally in any country or clime.
The cunning of the fox is everywhere, and, practically, the same answer
is given to the question, Why the bear or hyaena has a stumpy tail? by
dwellers in the torrid and the arctic zones. Æsop’s fables are familiar
as examples of the moral beast-tales; and our experience can bring up
many tales started to explain a place name, or other etymological
puzzle. But in the pure folktale there is not evident either myth or
explanation. A doggie asks, for service rendered, successively three
farmer’s daughters to marry him ; the two eldest refuse, but the
youngest accepts him, and, on being married, he becomes a splendid man.
Three children are born and spirited away on the night of their birth.
The mother confesses on the third occasion that the husband stole them,
and then he left her. She pursued him, and, after much trial, reached
the town where he was and of which his father was king. Here she found
that he was going to marry the Daughter of the King of the Skies. By
means of a shears and a needle that could work of themselves, she causes
such stir that she is invited to the palace, and soon manages to recall
herself to her husband’s mind. That is the outline of a common tale—the
Cupid and Psyche root. The distinction is great between it and a nature
myth. We may instance such a myth as that of the Tongan islanders, who
say that the god Tangaola one day went to fish in the sea, and, feeling
something heavy at the end of his line, he drew it up, and there
perceived the top of rocks, which continued to increase in size and
number till they formed a large continent, but the line broke, and only
the Tongan islands remained above the surface. But this Tongan myth is
rude compared to the mythic ideas involved in the history and actions of
the higher gods of Greece and Scandinavia—as, for instance, the sky god
Zeus and the weather god Thor, each with his bolt or his hammer
representing the lightning. We have, therefore, at least three classes
of tales, which we must distinguish from folk-tales proper:—
Tales with morals.
Tales explanatory of the characteristics of beasts or of natural
classification of the folk-tales themselves is also a necessity, for it
will be at once observed that these tales consist of merely “different
arrangements of a rather limited set of incidents,” and that their
classification and reduction to a few leading roots are possible. Von
Hahn, over twenty years ago, led the way in this very desirable and
scientific process of classifying the tales. His classification is
elaborate, and, indeed, exhaustive. He has forty formulae, as he calls
them—that is, forty leading forms of tales; but the real roots are much
fewer than that. Indeed, the root incidents can almost all be counted by
a score. Von Hahn’s classification, along with two others, will be found
at the end of this paper.
Mythic tales and
folk-tales have been, till lately, mixed together, and whatever
explanation was given of the one was held sufficient for the other.
Mythology was considered by some a broken-down remembrance of early
revealed religion. Others thought that myths were tales founded on real
historic events. Jupiter, the god, was once an earthly king, they held ;
the water-horees and monsters of folk-lore were dim recollections of the
monster animals of primeval times. Others, again, held that the tales,
apart from the myths, were intended to convey moral truth —“to point a
moral and adorn a tale.” Myths, also on this theory, were practically
allegories. These are three theories that held sway for a long time; but
the discoveries made during this century in philology, and the
consequent extended kinship it showed between European nations and
Eastern nations, had soon an effect on mythology and folk-lore. Not
merely was there seen to be a group of languages allied, to which the
name Indo-European or Aryan could be applied, but it was observed that
their mythologies had also a general resemblance the one to the other.
Grimm saw this, and proceeded to examine the matter. He practically
started the solar theory of mythology—a theory taken up and illustrated
in 1856 by Mr Max Muller,, and energetically, enthusiastically, and
minutely worked out some years later by Sir George, then Mr. Cox. His
work, “The Mythology of the Aryan Nations,” was in its way
an-epoch-making book. The theory is as follows.
The same myths and
folk-tales, practically, are found from India to the west of Ireland,
and the reason for this is that these nations, as they are
linguistically descended from one parent language, so also are their
mythologies descended from one parent mythology. The Sanscrit is the
oldest Indo-European language— that is, the nearest to the parent tongue
; so also is the mythology it contains nearest the parent mythology.
That mythology was a literary embodiment of the worship of nature.
Anthropomorphic polytheism was its form, and the chief deities were the
powers of sky, light, and air. The sun-god was the chief personage in
the myths. Every mythological name has been analysed, and in the
analysis, rightly or wrongly, some atmospheric or solar reference has
been found. Mr Max Miiller and Sir G. Cox appear to slightly diverge as
to the origin of metaphor; Mr Muller is satisfied that metaphor is
natural to man in his early stage; he “lisped in metaphors, for the
metaphors came.” When man called the dawn a maiden, he knew that was
metaphoric and poetic. Sir G. Cox, on the other hand, thinks that man
believed nature really to be alive and animate like himself when he said
so, and hence it was no metaphor originally. But, as man advanced from
this childish stage, he recognised the absurdity of attributing life to
sun and moon and clouds and dawn, and, therefore, he divorced,
unconsciously and in the course of time, the personal elements and the
stories thereto attached from the material objects that were explained
by anthropomorphic or spirit agency. Hence Zeus, which means sky or
shining one, and the sky were no longer one, but two. The one meant the
sky in its unpoetical and non-metaphoric form; the other was the old
sky-power divorced from the sky, and made into a personal being with a
life history. That life history was got from the old facts t)f his
previous connection with the sky, which were applied to him in that
earlier stage, metaphorically and poetically (according to Max Muller),
or as a real matter of belief (according to Cox). In any case, the
divorcement was caused by forgetfulness, on the part of succeeding
generations, of the point of view from which their ancestors looked on
these powers of air and sky, and from the consequent misconception of
the metaphors formerly employed, which were in the later period
transferred to the individual, or spirit apart from the object.
Apollo was thus divorced
from the material sun; but the life of Apollo was composed from the old
metaphoric or personal material which was applied to the sun at the
earlier stage. Oblivion or forgetfulness of the more primitive use of
epithets, or of the spirit explanations, is here relied on; but the
richness of mythological incident requires more than this. Many names
would be, metaphorically, applied to the sun, and many epithets—names of
animals and epithets widely varying. This is polyonymy. These names
would also apply to other objects as well; and hence, besides
forgetfulness, some considerable confusion and mixing of incidents would
arise from polyonymy and homonymy—in fact, the theory of polyonymy and
homonymy is elastic enough for anything. Mr Max Muller thus describes
how a myth or tale might arise on his theory:—“But suppose that the
exact meaning of the word *gloaming" had been forgotten, and that a
proverbial expression, such as ‘The gloaming sings the sun to sleep' had
been preserved, would not the gloaming very soon require an explanation,
and would long hesitate to tell their children that the gloaming was a
good old woman who came every night to put the sun into his bed, and who
would be very angry if she found any little children still awake t The
children would soon talk among themselves about Nurse Gloaming, and, as
they grew up, would tell their children again of the same wonderful old
nurse. It was in this and in similar ways that in the childhood of the
world many a story grew up which, when once repeated and sanctioned by a
popular poet, became part and parcel of what we are accustomed to call
the mythology of ancient nations.”
Let us now take an actual
example of the use of this theory in explanation of a well-known myth,
which is also a well-known incident in the folk-tales. Phrixos and Hell£
were the children of Athamas by Nepheld Nephel disappears, and Athamas
marries Ino, who acts as stepmother to Phrixos and Hell^ with the usual
result. Nephete, who is immortal, helps her children to escape, and they
ride away through the air on a ram with a golden fleece. Poor Hell£ fell
from off the ram as they were crossing the Hellespont, which was called
after her name on that account. Phrixos arrived in safety at Colchis, on
the eastern shores of the Black Sea, where Æetes ruled as king. Phrixos
then sacrificed the ram, and gave the fleece to Æetes, who placed it on
an oak tree in the grove of Ares. That is the myth or tale; and it must
be said that, on the face of it, it presents some points favourable to
explanation by this theory. Nephele means cloud on the
linguistic-forgetful-of-metaphor theory, that is easy; Nephele,
originally, really is the cloud, and not a person. Athamas is Semitic
(so Sir G. Cox says), being a form of Tammuz, the sun-god. The cloud and
the sun, therefore, have two children—Phrixos and Hell4; what should
they be f Phrixos is the cold, clear air (Sir G. Cox says), and Heil is
the air as warmed by the fostering heat of the sun [Parenthetically, it
may be remarked that Phrixos means, and is allied philologically to,
“bristling Hell" is not so easily settled as to derivation]. Nephele
dies or departs; Athamas marries Ino, the open and glaring day, for she
is called Ino Leukothea. The open and glaring day hates and drives forth
the cold air and the warm air, and these fly away on a ram with a golden
fleece—that is to say, on the sunlit cloud; the taking away, or going
away with the golden fleece is the carrying away of the sunlit clouds of
evening from the regions of the gloaming to those of the dawn, where
they are left to be brought back again by the sun—that is by Jason. The
whole natural history of the myth, then, is this The sun and the cloud
have two children—cold air and warm air, The cloud goes aloft. The open
and glaring day ill-treats and casts forth cold air and warm, and they
run away upon the back of the evening sunlit cloud, but warm air falls
off, and cold ail arrives in the east with sunlit cloud alone, and then
sacrifices 01 kills it. It is very pretty, very ingenious, and very
untrue to nature, and to the science of meteorology as well as to
history. The whole “solar theory” is of this same type, at least when
applied tc folk-tales—pretty, ingenious, untrue. The sun pursues the
dawn, and overtakes her at even; that explains the story of the
ever-fleeing maiden pursued, and finally overtaken, by the lover. That
maid is Daphne, Prokris, Cinderella, and the other nameless and
numberless ladies who fly, leaving slippers or other tokens behind them.
The sun-god is the hero of every tale, be the hero animal or man. This
theory makes the folk-tales merely the detritus, a* Max Muller says, of
mythology, and practically the detritus of solar mythology. The theory
has made the greatest shipwreck over the enchantments and spells under
which heroes appear ir these folk-tales. In a Gaelic tale the hero comes
on the scene at first as a hoodie or a doggie; among other nations he
may be a bear, or, as in Germany, a frog, and hence the story-name
“frog-prince.” In Sanscrit, too, there is a similar story of a beautiful
girl that was a frog, Bheki, sitting at a well. A king asked her to be
his wife, and she consented on condition that he should never show her a
drop of water. One day, being tired, she asked the king for water; he
forget his promise, brought water, and Bheki disappeared. Now, here is a
poser for the solar mythologists. But, like the Scotch theologian, he
looks the difficulty boldly in the face, and passes on. This is what Mr
Max Miiller says of it:— “The story of Bheki must have grown up
gradually, beginning with a short saying about the sun—such as that
Bheki, the sun, will die at the sight of water, as we should say, that
the sun will set when it approaches the water from which it rose in the
morning. Thus, viewed as a woman, the sun-frog might be changed into a
woman, and married to a king; viewed as a man, he might be married to a
princess. In either case, stories would naturally arise to explain, more
or less fully, all that seemed strange in these marriages between frog
and man, and the change from sun to frog, and from frog to man, which
was at first due to the mere spell of language, would, in our nursery
tales, be ascribed to miraculous charms more familiar to a later age.”
And such, according to Max Mtiller, is the origin of these beast heroes
and heroines, and the consequent theory of enchantment. The whole world
of enchantment is based on forgotten metaphors. Such a mm of “might,
could, would, should, or must,” as the above passage presents, could
hardly be met with in any writer outside a solar mythologist. “The sun
must have been called Bheki.” Why must it t But was it? It was not; the
idea is absurd Hence we cannot for a moment believe that these beast
forms arose from forgotten metaphors; nor could forgotten metaphors
explain how savages still believe in such stories, and the possibility
of such transformations, such marriages, and consequent incidents.
The fact is, the theory
is utterly unscientific. It proceeds quite on the wrong lines. It never
asks whether modem savages, or men in a similar stage of culture with
the early Aryans and our early ancestors, ever think, act, and speak as
these Aryans must have done if this theory is true. The poetic power it
ascribes to savages is simply non-existent. The intense solicitude with
which primitive man watched the sun, the dawn, the cloud, the rain, and
the dew, and the way he described their trials, loves, and sorrows have
no counter-part in modern savage life, nor did they ever have in ancient
savage life. The savage and barbarous man is too busy with his own
love-affairs to attend much to the scorching love of the sun for the
dew. There is such a blank monotony about the sun turning up under all
sorts of mythological disguises as chief hero that we thoroughly
sympathise with Mr Lang when he complains of him as that “eternal
lay-figure.” No historical hero, no custom, no belief is out of danger
until the sun-hero receives his quietus. In addition to the fact that
the “solar” theory is inadequate to cope with the difficulties of the
folk-tales —and, indeed, with the details of the higher mythology—there
is another objection. Mr Max Miiller reduces mostly all myths and tales
to solar origin; other theorists hold that atmospheric phenomena play
the heaviest part, such as storms and lightning. For instance, M.
Decharme makes Phrixos “the demon of thunder,” and Helld “a goddess of
lightning.” These scientists do not agree among themselves, not merely
on the main lines and details of folk-tale explanations, but they differ
often widely in the interpretation of the higher mythology. And one
sympathises strongly with Mr Lang’s remark that there “is an improbable
monotony in the theory which resolves most of old romance into a series
of remarks about the weather.” We must, however, admit that, in the
higher reaches of mythology, Aryan myth is a personification of the
phenomena and conceptions of nature, and that the orbs of heaven, the
sky, day and night, the clouds, and the lightning are the foundation and
the most important part of the whole fabric. Nor need we deny that some
folk-tales are the detritus of the old mythology, although we have to
maintain, on the other hand, that myths are often sublimated folk-tales,
as Mr Lang has so well proved in the case of the Jason myth.
So much for the “
solar-myth” theory of explaining the origin of folk-tales. The same
theorists hold that the diffusion of the tales throughout Indo-European
peoples points, as the similarity of language does, to a common origin
also of mythology. There are some difficulties, however, which this
theory does not recognise. First, some of the most characteristic
folk-tales have been found among savages and other non-Aryan peoples.
Not merely have single incidents been found, for that is quite common,
but often several incidents are connected in exactly a similar way among
savage tribes, the same beginning, middle, and denouement of plot
appearing. The tale in Campbell’s collection, “The Battle of the Birds,”
of which there is an Irish variant, and also other Gaelic versions, the
fullest being Mrs Mackellar’s version in a late number of the Celtic
Magazine, entitled the “Bodach Glas,” finds its next closest parallel in
a negro story from Jamaica, and hence is an African story, for the scene
is in Africa. The incident of the bathing of three sisters, and the
hero’s capture of the youngest, who helps him against her father,
appears in the African as in the Gaelic tale; the tasks are replaced by
the hero being asked to discover which is the youngest daughter, and
this he does, guessing her correctly, by her own help, under three
disguises, two of them animal; then the couple fly, pursued by the
father. The lady throws behind her a rose, a pebble, and a phial of
water, which produced respectively a broad wood, a range of rocky
mountains, and a rushing river, which carried away the father, horse and
all* This extraordinary coincidence makes the problem of the diffusion
of folk-tales a very difficult one indeed, for it is not easy to believe
that the negroes who recited the stories to “Monk” Lewis as Ananci
African stories could have learnt them from Scotch or Irish settlers in
Jamaica. The stories are redolent of African life. The incident where
the heroine hides in a tree above a well, with the consequence that two
other women who successively come to the well and see her face there,
and, fancying it is their own, think themselves too handsome for
anything, appears in a Madagascar story, as also does in the same story
the throwing behind of objects which develop into obstructions to the
pursuit by the giant or ogre. The heroine hara here throws behind her a
broom, an egg, a cane, and a pebble, which respectively became a dense
thicket, a lake, a dense forest, and an inaccessible precipice.
Secondly, as an objection to this theory of Aryan diffusion, there can
be no doubt that neighbouring Aryan nations have their folktales more
like each other than these tales are to those of Aryan nations farther
away. Teutonic and Celtic fairy tales are more like each other than
either are to those of Aiyan nations in Asia. Bat the linguistic
theorist might reply that so, too, are their languages and manners and
customs. Yet, there is just a suspicion of the one influencing the
other, though perhaps nothing more. In any case, the problem of the
diffusion of the tales has not yet been solved.
Some theorists, like Mr
Ralston and Mr Clouston, maintain that these tales are borrowed from the
East, and they look to India as the source of them. On the face of it,
such a view does not commend itself to a scientific enquirer. That some
tales have been borrowed from the East is true. Several were introduced
by the translators of eastern tales in the 12th century and onwards. But
we can recognise these with no great difficulty, especially among Gaelic
tales, for they want the peculiarities of Gaelic imagination and the
local colouring of our country. When we find a company on a green-coloured
hillock, and a shadow of a shower comes from the western airt going to
the eastern airt, and a rider on a black filly comes out of the shower;
when we meet with Fionn and his men on Beinn Eidinn, “on a hillock
behind the wind and in front of the sun, where they could see every
person and nobody could see them when we speed along with a steed that
would catch the swift March wind that was before him, and the swift
March wind that was behind him could not catch him; when the hunter on
the hunting hill gets suddenly enveloped in a Druidic mist, and is swept
away; when men so enchanted lose and regain limbs with no apparent
discomfort; when we find richness of description and descriptive
epithets; when we meet with piled up minutiee in alliterative order; and
when, in short, we find the language, the sense and the imaginative
power all combine into a harmonious and highly artistic effect, we may
be sure that here we have a genuine Gaelic tale. On the other hand,
tales of adventure, tales of cunning heroes and crafty rogues, fables
about beasts, and stories that carry a moral, may not be native at all;
but if the smack of Gaelic imagination is felt in them, that is an
almost infallible sign of native origin.
And why, it may be asked,
should India, or even Asia, be the cradle of such stories? The
assumption is ue scientific ; it will not do to say that the stories are
too imaginative for our temperate climate, where fancy is more
restrained by the rude battle with the realities of natural forces. Our
ancestors all along must have had stories and tales at all
stages—savage, barbaric, and civilised; that is capable of proof, for
savages everywhere delight in such now. The words of M. Gaidoz, one of
the best of Continental folk-lorists, can best express our argument. He
says:— “For us, however, who believe in the polygenism of tales, the
question is badly put when the origin of tales in the mass is spoken of,
and when it is wished to attribute them to one people or to one epoch.
This appears to us as little scientific as if one claimed to determine a
country of origin for the flora of France. Such and such a plant comes
from Persia, says one; then our flora comes from Persia. By a like
process, another would make it come from China or America; and other
theorists, arguing from the fact that the French came from the high
plateaux of Asia, could also well say that they carried their plants
with them from the same region. In short, our flora, like every other,
is composed of indigenous plants, and exotic plants come from different
parts of the world, and become native by acclimatisation. What must be
got is the history of each species by itself, and then it is possible to
give an account of the history and the course of migration. What has
been done for the flora has to be done for the tales : to study
separately each tale, each incident even, to tiy and determine its
affiliation, and, if possible, its place of origin.” So says M. Gaidoz.
Besides, the stories which Mr Clouston and others give as Indian
originals, are too often either wide of the mark or are sorry stuff to
build the beauteous superstructure of western story upon.
The likeness of Aryan
folk-tales to each other is greater undoubtedly than their likeness to
tales among savages, and this likeness is greater in proportion as the
races live beside each other. The same is true also of their languages.
This points to the common origin of Aryan folk-tales in the original
Aryan times. Yet, it is hard to believe that these tales were elaborated
then and kept up in their entirety for three or four thousand years or
more. Grimm’s tales and Campbell’s tales often present the same story
with the same series of incidents similarly combined. The Cinderella
story, for example, is widely diffused, and everywhere presents the same
plot and much the same incidents. It is hard to decide the matter, for
the difficulty is twofold; first, Could folk-tales preserve intact plot
and incidents for three, four, or five thousand years? and secondly, How
are we to regard the similar tales that appear in Africa and Asia among
non-Aryan tribes? These questions have not yet been satisfactorily
If we dismiss the solar
theory of the origin of these tales, if we refuse to consider them, on
the whole, the detritus of the old mythology, what, then, is their
origin ? That question again is not easy. It is easy enough to overthrow
a theory such as the solar one: to establish another is a different
matter. The solar theory professed two things in regard to the tales. It
professed to account for the incidents, and also for the plot of the
tale ; and, secondly, it accounted for the irrational element in the
tales—the enchantments and the human character of beast and bird and
tree and stone. The plot arose from the incidents in the career of the
personified sun or moon; and the irrational element arose from the
descendants misunderstanding or forgetting the metaphors and poetic
language of their ancestors. If the sun was playfully called a frog as
he squatted on the verge of the western sea, then an unpoetic posterity
at once fancied the sun-hero was a frog-man—one time a frog and another
a man—and accounted for it by magic. We saw how futile, how absurd and
unscientific indeed, such a theory is. We can account for the irrational
element in these tales with the utmost ease; for, as a matter of fact,
there is scarcely an irrational idea contained in them but finds its
counterpart in some savage belief or practice of modern times. Belief in
the kinship with animals, and hence the possibility of marriage with
them ; belief in the metamorphosis of living or dead persons into
animals ; the idea that inanimate objects have spirits in them and may
speak; the notion that one’s soul can leave the body and have a life
apart—a belief not yet dead in the Highlands, as the idea of the
bee-soul proves; and the belief in the possibility of visiting the lower
world—all these beliefs are rampant in the modern savage life. Again,
the practices and customs which appear in the tales as so strange are
perfectly well known amongst barbarians and savages. Cannibalism, human
sacrifice, the queer etiquette of marriage life going to the extremest
of prudery, as when it is tabooed to a woman ever to see her husband
naked, or when the husband visits the wife only by stealth or at night,
or when the wife never speaks to him for a long period after marriage or
never mentions his name; the custom in polygamous families that the
youngest son is the heir and the head of the family— these and several
others, such as bride-winning or bride capture, which appear in the
tales, are still in practice among savage tribes. The irrational element
in the tales is therefore easily accounted for.
But when we come to the
actual construction of the tale—the plot with its incidents—it is not so
easy to account for matters. Such tales as regard the wicked step-mother
who ill-treats her stepchildren and favours her own, ultimately driving
away or ruining the former, are easily enough accounted for. So, too, is
the flight of children from cannibalism or from human sacrifice. The
flight of a lady and her lover from a giant or wizard father is also
easy, for it belongs to bride-winning and bride-capture: but the
incident is always complicated by the details of the pursuit* in which
barriers of wood, rock, and lake are successively placed by symbolic
incantations between the couple and the pursuer. These incidents, with
the magic power displayed, are all natural to savage life. Flight
implies pursuit in such a case, and the barriers would naturally suggest
themselves to people living in a world full of belief in magic. The
bride is purchased or captured in barbaric and savage life; but,
naturally enough, the price may be changed into the accomplishment of
some difficult tasks, the solving of a riddle, or the conquering of the
girl or her father in a race. The number three is nearly always the
proper number, and it is hard to say why. The youngest brother is
naturally the best, because in polygamous families he is the heir and
head of the family. The gratitude of the animals which the hero assists
is seen in their assisting him in turn, and this, no doubt, points a
moral, and this may have originally started some tales, teaching, as it
does, kindness to animals. The giant who has no heart in his body,
because he is afraid he may himself lose it, is wheedled by the woman to
tell, after three trials, where it is; once the idea of a heartless
giant is given, the story would here naturally follow. These giants have
no wits, and hence the hero easily tricks them. The monster that
requires a human being each year or oftener belongs to the lowest
category of savage local gods who delight in human sacrifice. That a
hero—a culture hero—should arise to release people from such an incubus
in their worship must have been often an actual fact.
Other tales depend on the
idea of taboo or prohibition. The bride must not see the husband
undressed. The breaking of such taboos causes the husband to leave her,
and she has to win him back. This appears often in the tales. In the
tale of Cupid and Psyche it is fully brought out. Psyche lighted a lamp
and saw the god, which she was strictly forbidden to do, and he
disappeared. In other cases, the wife mentions some fact in her
husband’s presence which she ought not to do, as in the Highland tale of
the Hoodie, when she told him she forgot her coarse comb ; or she
conleases that her husband stole the children, and he leaves her, as in
the Gaelic tale, The Daughter of the King of the Skies. The husband may
leave the wife and stay away many years, as in the cess of Ulysses,
where she remains faithful throughout.
These tales illustrate
customs and enforce taboos, as we see; they tell of a practice, and they
point a moral. Hence, they are both artistic and useful. But we must not
dwell too much on the idea that their object is merely didactic or
moral, and not also artistic and for amusement. Morals they do point, as
in the Bluebeard story, which warns against curiosity in forbidden
things, and rather savage morals, too, for the youngest sister in that
story acts with as much curiosity as the other two, but she has, by her
kindness, enlisted in her service some being who helps her out of her
difficulties. Similarly there are many tales which pourtray with
admiration cunning and cleverness of all kinds, generally immoral
There are incidents,
however, which at present we cannot explain. The bride is often
supplanted by her maid, who palms herself off as the mistress, and is
married to the hero; but all ends well latterly. Again, why does the
husband forget his first wife when he leaves her, and is kissed on
reaching home by his mother or his hound? And then she hides in a tree,
and her reflection in the spring causes two other women to think
themselves pretty. Such incidents, as Mr Lang says, are among the real
difficulties of the subject. Nor again can we easily explain the tissue
of plot in each story, though we can explain single incidents. Why
should the hero appear as a hoodie first, and on marriage become a man,
and thereafter leave his wife ? The hero under spells is here connected
with the taboo incident. That is not the case in the Cupid and Psyche
form of it, for the hero there is a god throughout. The Cinderella story
is very difficult to explain in its entirety. But in discussing these
tales, we should remember their undoubted antiquity ; their incidents
are survivals among us, according to our theory, of savage
thought—survivals of a time when our ancestors had beliefs and practices
akin to the savages of our own time. That the incidents should
intermingle with each other, producing other forms of tales, elaborate
and complicated, in the long lapse of ages past, is but what we should
expect. It is difficult for us to trace the kaleidoscopic changes that
took place in these incidents and these tales in the far distant past,
“In the fathomless years
forgotten whereover the dead gods reign.”
Of the classifications
which follow, Von Hahn’s, as condensed by Mr Ralston, is the first. Von
Hahn’s classification is founded upon no theory; but the second
classification is based upon the anthropological theory of explanation.
It is founded largely on Mr Lang’s headings in his article on “
Mythology” in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The savage customs and ideas
which correspond to those which appear in the tales are, as far as
possible, given under each head. It differs from Von Hahn in taking, not
the whole story or incident, but the single facts, and classifying them.
The third classification is that employed by Mr Nutt in classifying
Campbell’s Highland tales. The “husk” refers to the disguised of the
hero or heroine under animal form or under servile guise, and the
“taboo” refers to the breaking of some mystic command as doing-something
contrary “to the custom of women.” The numbers after the headings in Mr
Nutt’s table, such as 43, 14, 4, &c., refer to the number of each tale
in Mr Campbell’s book that comes-under the particular heading, wholly or
partially. Campbell’s-work contains 86 numbered tales, and of these,
some 41 only are pure folk tales, along with which may be classified
half-a-dozen hero stories of the Fenian and heroic cycles. The rest of
the tales comprise two classes—(1) Popular tradition and folk-lore^,
which make some dozen numbers; and (2) Folk stories, which. concern
clever thieves, feigned fools, and clever and curious incidents in life.
Of these there are about 23. Mr Nutt’s table, a» published in the
Folk-lore Record, vol. V., does not contain the references to the
numbers in Campbell. They have been kindly sent by Mr Nutt to the
writer, who alone is responsible for error in their use. Unclassed are
the opening of 38 and the poetry of 74.
VON HAHN’S SCHEME.
[AS C0NDEN8ED BT MR
DIVISION A.—HUSBAND AND
WIFE AFFECTED BY
husband deserts wife.
2. Melusina.—Supernatural wife deserts husband.
3. Penelope.—Faithful wife recovers truant husband.
4. Calumniated wife
banished, but restored.
(C) Sale or Purchase.
5—6. Access to spouse or
loved one bought.
(A) Children longed for.
7. They assume for a time
8. They are made victims to a vow or promise.
9. Their birth is attended by various wonders.
(B) Exposure of children.
10. Amphion.—Babe exposed
by unmarried mother.
11. Ædipus.—Babe exposed by married parents.
12. Danse.—Mother and babe exposed together.
13. Andromeda—Daughter exposed to a monster.
14. Little Snow
White.—Stepmother persecutes girl.
15. Phrixus and Helle.—Stepmother persecutes a brother and sister.
16. Youngest brother ill-treated by elder brothers.
17. Cinderella.—Youngest sister ill-treated.
18. Dioscuri.—Twins help each other.
19. Sister (or mother) betrays brother (or son).
20. Sister saves brother from enchantment.
21. Heroine supplanted by step-sister (or servant).
22. Magic brothers-in-law assist hero.
(A) Bride winning.
23. Bride won by heroic exploits.
24. Bride won by ingenuity.
(B) Abduction of Heroine.
carried off by force.
26. Helen and Paris.
27. Medea and Jason.
(C) Various subjects.
28. Swan-maidens robbed
of garments, and married.
29. Snake-brought herbs restore life.
30. Bluebeard.—A Forbidden Chamber opened.
31. Punchkin, or the Giant without any heart.
32. Grateful Beasts assist hero.
33. Hop-o’-my-Thumb.—Hero tiny, but brave
34. A strong fool works wonders.
35. Faithful John, or Bama and Luxman.
36. Disguisal of hero or heroine.
DIVISION III.—CONTRAST OF
INNER AND OUTER WORLD.
37. Hero is killed by
demon, but revives.
38. Hero defeats demon.
39. Hero tricks demon.
40. Lower world visited.
I. Bride or bridegroom
transgresses mystic command, and the other disappears.
[Savage nuptial etiquette often forbids seeing or naming husband.]
II. Husband leaves wife,
and returns after many years.
Penelope formula: Gaelic, “The Baker of Beauly.” [Admiration for female
III.. Attempted avoidance
of fate or prophecy.
1. Parents or friends
expose fateful children.
2. Heroic Expulsion and Return formula.
IV. The Wicked Stepmother
and her Step-children.
[Cruelty of Stepmother is world-wide and world-old,.]
V. Slaughter of a
Perseus and Andromeda
[Belief in monsters is wide-spread.]
VI. Flight, generally by
miraculous aid, from cannibalism, human sacrifice, or incest.
[Danger from cannibalism, is often reed in Savage life.]
VII. Bride given to
whoever accomplishes difficult adventures.
[Reminiscence of Savage capture or purchase of bride.]
VIII. Flight of a lady
and her lover from giant or wizard father.
[Bride-winning, and chase for purchase money.]
IX. The false bride.
The maid pretends to be the mistress, and degrades the bride to the rank
X. The bride that brings
[A common Savage belief not yet lost in Europe.]
XI. The youngest brother
is the successful adventurer.
[A reminiscence of the Savage and ancient Jiingsten-recht} whereby the
youngest son is heir and head of the family.]
XII. Grateful beasts,
aided by hero or heroine, aid him or her in turn.
[Savages believe animals to be endowed with reason and capable of
speech.; especially human beings metamorphosed into animals.]
1. The animals are
ordinary ones, but act humanly.
2. The animals are human beings under spells.
XIII. The separable soul
The giant that has no heart in his body. [A common Savage idea.]
XIV. Magic shoes,
garments, and implements; gold-producing and other magic animals.
XV. The strong man, his
adventures and comrades, such as Keen-eye, Quick-ear, &c.
[Savage admiration of physical powers.]
XVI. The ogre is blinded
by the hero, and deceived by a pun on hero’s pretended name.
Tricking of giants and demons.
[Stories of witless giant strength are world-wide, as also of
XVII. Disguisal and
discovery of hero or heroine.
XYIII. Descent into Hades
by the hero.
[Savages believe now that journeys can be made there.]
XIX The Knight Errant.
Tales of a hero’s adventures by land and sea; such are Conall Gulban,
Sir Ualabh O’Com, &c.
[Love of stories of adventure common to all races.]
NUTT’S SCHEME IN
CLASSIFYING CAMPBELL’S COLLECTION.
1. Cinderella root 43.
2. Catskin root. 14.
3. Goldenlocks root. 4, 9, 16, 32, 44, 58.
4. Beauty and Beast root. 86 (Female form).
5. Black Bull o’ Norroway (Cupid and Psyche) root. 2, 3, 12, 44.
6. Melusina root. 86 (?).
7. Bluebeard root. 13 (?), 41.
1. Frog prince root. 33.
2. Swan maid root. 10, 44.
3. Seven Swans root.
Genoveva root. 18.
Gudrun root. 1, 4, 38,
Helen root. 60.
Group (Expulsion and Return Formula). Romulus root. 35, 74, 76, 82.
1. For bride winning.
Brunhilde root. 2, 10, 22, 51, 58, 61, 76, 80.
2. For hero winning. 17, 36.
3. Task imposed by stepmother. Hercules root. 1, 46, 84.
4. Task undergone to avenge injury to superior. 52.
VIII.— Wisdom-giving Fish
or Snake Group.
Fionn or Siegfried or
Melampus root. 47, 82.
IX.—Tiny Hero Group.
Tom Thumb root. 69.
X.—Struggle of Man and
1. Hero slain by monster.
2. Hero overcomes monster. 5, 6, 7, 30, 45 (2), 75.
3. Hero tricks monster. 37, 42.