Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/Preface
HE fairy tales and popular stories gathered in this volume are "Danish" only insomuch as they have been collected among the population of Denmark, and are colored by the thinking and doing of the people of this country. It would be difficult, indeed, to apply the name of any nationality to any of the numerous popular stories gathered by a host of ardent and studious collectors in the different European countries. Very few of all these tales can be truthfully said to have originated in the native land of those into whose spiritual life they have entered.
The framework of all genuine European fairy and folk tales are of Indo-European origin. The stories have spread from one country to another, and from one individual to another, without losing their original typical character; they have become disseminated among the population by means of living words—words which sound and are heard—which breathe into the listening ear the glee and woe of the hero; the sorrows of the faithful against whom foul play is started, and the many insignificant yet collectively important details and incidents that produce the obligate tears or smiles.
Whether told in the Jutlander's broken dialect, the singing tone of the "Fynboer," or in the Zealander's rolling provincialism, these tales are built upon the same foundation, and become adapted, through sympathies roused, or indignation called forth, to the receptive powers of the listeners with which the story-teller is always familiar. Thus the form in which we receive a story from some old woman, or nurse, depends in a certain measure upon the ways and habits of the population which has preserved the tale. At the same time, the ingenuity and the memory of the narrator are important factors in producing the dramatic or moral tenor appreciated by the listener. Hence the same story may be found in Denmark, Germany, Servia, or England, comprising the same facts and founded upon one common "plot," with the exception of certain details; but the mode of telling, the tinge of nationality or of individual peculiarities these are as different as the momentous charm produced in telling.
The folk tales of the Danes are prominently illustrative of the ways and habits of this nation. Interwoven as they are with the best and brightest thoughts, hopes, and aspirations of "the plain people"—the rural population—they cannot but represent certain essential features of popular belief and aspiration. They are never better understood than when told by an old farmer in his frieze coat, "tasselled cap of red," and wooden shoes with straw in the bottom. In fact, there is no better means of communication from man to man than the living word.
May this train of Danish kings and queens, wise men and fools, princes and beggars, peasants and burghers, soldiers, fairies, and trolls—may they all be kindly welcomed by our American boys and girls!
The sources from which most of these stories were gathered are principally the works of the late Professor Svend Grundtvig, one of the most conscientious Danish folk-lore students. In addition thereto, the collections of E. Tang-Kristensen, Ingvor Bondesen, and Molbech have been consulted. The writings of Budde, Jens Kamp, and a few others have supplied a few tales, and in a few cases personal memories were called to assistance.
Mrs. Dora Bay, my wife, and Miss Mary Whitcomb, of the Iowa State Historical Department, have given me much good advice, for which I am truly grateful.
J. C. B.