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500 new fairytales unearthed

6th March 2012

A huge collection of fairytales compiled by the German historian Franz Xaver von Schonwerth has been unearthed, with the literary treasure trove rivalling that of the Brothers Grimm for its vastness and cultural significance.

There are more than 500 pieces in the collection, which was compiled in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz in the 19th century, around the same time Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were building an archive of tales that would go on to permeate western culture.

Von Schonwerth spent decades interviewing locals and cross-referencing fables in an attempt to construct the most comprehensive collection of fairytales ever created, though his completed work - Aus der Oberpfalz, Sitten und Sagen - never gained popularity and faded into obscurity.

For 150 years the tales resided unseen in an archive in Regensburg, Germany, until Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer finally uncovered them and realised the importance of the work.

She explained that the collection includes local versions of many well-known fairytales such as Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin, but the vast majority of the fables will be unfamiliar to readers and are an important cultural link to past beliefs, with cautionary tales and inspiring stories for people of all ages.

They include the story of a turnip princess, a penny-pinching farmer who discovers a money mill and a young maiden who transforms herself into a pond to evade the clutches of an evil witch.

'Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage,' Eichenseer explained.

A possible reason why the tales never gained the same prominence as the Grimm Brothers' works could be the fact that Von Schonwerth recorded locals' stories verbatim and never applied literary gloss.

However, Eichenseer argues that this makes the fairytales even more important in many ways, as they paint an accurate picture of public belief in this part of the world during the 19th century.

Such was the high regard in which Von Schonwerth was held, that Jacob Grimm himself recommended to King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the historian be the person to replace him and his brother when their research was completed.

'Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting folklore so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear,' Grimm said at the time.

The Franz Xaver von Schonwerth Society has now commissioned Munich-based translator Dan Szabo to convert the newly discovered fables into English, opening up the works to a much wider audience, as the historian originally intended.

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