Das Mrchenlexikon. Walter Scherf. Digitale Bibliothek.
Reviewed by Susan G. Figge
Published on H-German (December, 2006)
Studying the Folktale in the Digital Age
First published in 1995 by C.H. Beck in Munich, this volume offers a readable, reliable reference guide to some 500 well-known and less familiar European folktales. Broader in tale types, sources and geographical scope than his <cite>Lexikon der Zaubermrchen</cite> (1982) or his 1987 study of gruesome children's fairy tales, the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> focuses on an array of tales generally classified under the long standard category, formulated by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, of the ordinary folktale, including tales of magic, religious tales, novelle and tales of the stupid ogre, and considers their historical and comparative context and their potential psychodynamic impact. <p> The publication of the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> in the Digitale Bibliothek series has greatly increased its availability and enhanced its usefulness for students, scholars and general readers. Scherf, long-time director of the Internationale Jugendbibliothek in Munich, has an extraordinary knowledge of folktale literature and scholarship, and the digitized format enables the reader to pursue easily the wealth of connections he makes among tales, tale types, motifs and sources. It also provides tools to carry out individually designed searches of the entire text and to edit, annotate and store the results. <p> Articles on individual tales, arranged alphabetically by tale title, include the history of the tale's collection, transmission, publication and reception; an account of the plot (these engaging summaries, often with charming details, are an invitation to read the original); an extensive discussion of the narrative and motif structure of the tale in relation to its tale type and to related tales; and a bibliography. Appended material includes an index of Aarne/Thompson (Aa/Th) tale types with lists of the tales of each type that are treated in the individual articles, an index of tale collections and other primary sources and an index of abbreviations and short titles for these and for secondary sources. Also included are a list of the personal names of editors, collectors and illustrators of tales and an index of motifs, characters and symbols with references to the tale types in which they occur. <p> While the CD-ROM reproduces these features directly from the 1995 print edition, cross-references have been hyperlinked, sparing readers much tedious hand searching. From the article on the Grimms' tale "Die Gnsemagd" (pp. 998-1008), for example, a reader can easily follow links to discussions of nine related tales and to Aa/Th tale type 533 ("die von einer Buhlerin verdrngte Braut") in the tale type index, which produces in turn links to articles on or sources of seven tales of this type. Links from the motif index entry "die falsche Braut" lead to Aa/Th 533, but also to seven other tale types associated with that motif, and from these to numerous articles on individual tales. This digitally enhanced capacity to tunnel in various directions through discussions of structurally and thematically related tale versions from many times and places creates an immediate sense of the tales as part of a widely diverse but interconnected set of literary and oral traditions. <p> Scherf's use of many sources within and beyond German language and cultural areas effectively places well-known tales in their sometimes surprisingly broad geographic and historical context. The <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> includes tales from now classic literary collections from Mm. d'Aulnoy to the <cite>Arabian Nights</cite>; tales from German dialect regions and northern Europe; and from Russia, Italy, Greece, Albania, Turkey, India, Mongolia, Japan, Argentina, Cuba, Persia and ancient Egypt. The many references to tales not included in the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> but available in standard collections broaden even further the potential for comparative study. <p> Scherf calls on a chronologically and methodologically wide array of folktale scholarship: the historical and comparative folk narrative research of Vladimir Propp, Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson; the philological work of Heinz Rlleke; the psychological analysis of Bruno Bettelheim; the literary and sociological interpretations of Max Lthi and Lutz Rhrich; the sociological approaches of Ruth Bottigheimer and Jack Zipes; and Linda Dgh's studies of storytelling in cultural communities. At the same time, his discussions of the individual tales demonstrate a consistent interpretive approach. <p> For each of the some 140 Aarne/Thompson tale types represented in the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite>, Scherf identifies one tale as a <cite>Leitfassung</cite>. These tales are selected for their usefulness in exploring the qualities that for Scherf help define the ordinary folktale: its re-creation in the fairytale world of stages in the young adult's struggle for independence and maturity and its capacity to foster the imaginative identification that enables hearers and readers to participate in that struggle and its resolution. Scherf's reading of the tales is thus both structural and functional. In the first part of the narrative the hero/heroine leaves home, discovers resources for survival in the face of apparently overwhelming obstacles and enters preliminarily into a partner relationship. The second part brings new conflicts to overcome, seen in psychoanalytic terms as unresolved relationships with internalized parent figures. As Scherf notes in his discussion of the dialect tale "Wie Griet sich selbst nicht mehr kannte," "Beziehungskonflikt-Dramatik ist das Schlssel-Thema des gesamten Schatzes eigentlicher Mrchen: Ablsung, Selbstfindung, Partnerfindung, Zerfall der Partnerschaft und erneuter, sich selbst entuernder Einsatz fr den anderen" (p. 3640). Scherf explores ways in which this basic plot structure, together with an ever-changing array of events and motifs, creates a <cite>Dramaturgie</cite> that allows the reader or hearer to identify unconsciously with the characters and with their processes of conflict and development. It is in the interior world that the true, and truly magical, action takes place. <p> In his discussion of "Die Gnsemagd," for example, Scherf reviews the mythic, symbolic and legendary sources for motifs and plot elements: drops of blood as powerful magic, golden hair as evidence of royal lineage, magic sayings, complaints shared with an apparently lifeless object, the name Falada, the role of geese and the conflict between unlike sisters. He describes tales with similar narrative components, motif clusters or constellations of characters, including the medieval Berta legend, Swedish, Greek, English and Russian versions, and an oral tale from Schleswig-Holstein. In the final analysis, however, this information, useful and important as it is, leaves unanswered what, for Scherf, is the most important question about the tale: why the story of the "Gnsemagd" has remained so compelling. He locates the answer in the <cite>Erzhlvorgang</cite>, the narrative process itself. The impact of the story does not lie in the common dualistic representation of the good and bad girls, but in the unfolding narrative of how each uses the resources she possesses. Duped by her arrogant servant girl, the Queen's daughter carelessly loses her symbolic connections to mother, the handkerchief with drops of her mother's blood and her talking horse Falada. In the second part of the story she discovers in her lowly state as a gooseherd the true inner powers conferred by her mother and through them she defends herself from further humiliation, prompting the old king, father of her intended bridegroom, to recognize her true identity. Not only does she finally marry the prince, she also recovers her connection to powerful and affirming mother and father figures, establishing the authentic self, worthy in fairytale terms of a royal match. Blinded by her own initially successful deceit, the servant girl, who has become the prince's bride under false pretenses, fails to see the transformation that has taken place and is punished accordingly (pp. 1001-1003). <p> This exploration of the ordinary tale as a drama of unconscious developmental conflict, familiar from Scherf's earlier work, may put off some readers, but the discussions of individual tales are suggestive rather than comprehensive and are always situated within a historical and comparative context. For Scherf, no tale can be reduced to one psychoanalytic function, moral message or sociological meaning. In the transaction between the narrator's shaping of the tale and the hearer's or reader's expectations and needs, multiple meanings can be constructed. Scherf notes in the introduction to the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite>, "dass Mrchen nicht gedeutet, sondern erlebt und, unbewusst, verarbeitet werden wollen" (p. 6). <p> Scherf's focus on the relationship between structure and psychodynamic function in the ordinary tale leads him to consider the potential impact on readers and hearers of the choices made by oral narrators, authors, collectors and editors as they have shaped their material within a specific cultural context. That the Grimms substituted the devil for the heroine's father in "Das Mdchen ohne Hnde," for example, avoids the suggestion of incest for the contemporary audience, but alters the developmental drama, in which the daughter must break free of the excessive father-daughter bond (pp. 2081-2082). <p> The focus on <cite>Dramaturgie</cite> also leads Scherf to suggest revisions of prior tale classifications. Apparent similarities can lead to a confusion of the ordinary tale with other categories, but for Scherf it is the deep structure of a tale with its attendant potential psychological impact that should determine its location in any formal system. He finds, for example, that the popular story of "Die drei Brsebocke," categorized as a fable (Aa/Th 122), belongs more properly with other ordinary folktales about the hero's victorious encounter with an ogre (p. 494). By the same token, "Das tapfere Schneiderlein," classifed by Aarne/Thompson as a humorous tale or <cite>Schwank</cite>, crosses paths with the magic tale, when, in some versions, the tailor/trickster encounters magical helpers, or, in others, when he discovers his own inner powers after the death of his father (p. 3046). In suggesting these kinds of re-classifications, Scherf anticipates and parallels work like that of Hans Jrg Uther in his recent third revision of the Aarne/Thompson <cite>Types of the Folktale</cite>. <p> What emerges above all from Scherf's comparative look at the structure, function, transmission and narrative context of the 500 tales in the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> is his sense of folktale traditions as a dynamic system of interaction. The complex relationships among tellers and hearers; oral and written versions; tale types, individual tales and their variations in plots, motifs and characters are web-like rather than linear, genealogical rather than evolutionary. It is this sense that is particularly well captured in the digital format. <p> Since 1997 Direct Media Publishing has been making significant reference works, literary texts, and image collections available on CD-ROM and DVD-ROM. For the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite>, as with other volumes of the Digitale Bibliothek, the software employs a split-screen format, in which the text of the print edition is reproduced on the right side of the screen and the indexing and search functions appear on the left. Users can re-size the screens and can select the split screen or the full screen view of either the text or function area. The full screen text view can be split again, allowing two or more sections of text, not necessarily contiguous, to be compared. Arrows and scroll bars enable speedy navigation within articles and appendices. Hyperlinked cross-references connect to each other and to lists of tale types and source collections. Arrow buttons also allow the retracing of link trails, so that connections made need not be lost. <p> A variety of search functions are accessible through the main menu, tabs and toolbars. These include a table of contents and an alphabetical index of all tales, tale types, motifs and abbreviated primary sources. Selecting any item in the table of contents or index calls up the corresponding article or page in the right-screen text area. Particularly useful is the individualized search tool, which can perform simple word searches across the entire text, advanced searches with place-holders and Boolean operators, or topic searches based on a list of key words identified by the user. Search results appear in tabular form in the function area with corresponding highlighting of relevant passages in the text itself. Results of these searches can be edited, annotated, stored and recalled for later use. Likewise portions of text highlighted by the reader in any of four colors can be stored, exported for use in other formats, and printed. It is thus possible to construct individualized files of text passages or of words, titles, proper and place names, definitions, topics and themes. <p> New versions of the DigiBib software have been developed since the publication of the digital <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite>. These are available for download from the Web site of the Digitale Bibliothek and can be used with all volumes in the series. The latest Windows version of the software offers a cleaner user interface and quicker, more flexible access to search, storage and retrieval functions and requires Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000 or XP. Another free download, "die Bibliotheksverwaltung der Digitalen Bibliothek," allows several volumes to be installed directly on a hard drive and searched simultaneously. Obvious candidates for such linked searches: <cite>Deutsche Mrchen und Sagen</cite> (vol. 80), <cite>Europische Mrchen und Sagen</cite> (vol. 110), and the newly published <cite>Handwrterbuch des Aberglaubens</cite> (vol. 145). <p> Since the CD-ROM publication of the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> in 2003, Direct Media has made the DigiBib software available for both MacIntosh OS X and Linux operating systems and for Braille readers, all free downloads from the website. Some text viewing and search features are not included in the Mac version, and minor bugs need to be dealt with from time to time. The Digibib interface for OS X is not immediately intuitive and only a brief segment of the current software handbook, a download from the website, is specific to the Mac, although a query to software support brought a speedy answer. Development continues, however, and Mac users are invited to offer suggestions. <p> While Direct Media reproduces the print edition of texts, one can still regret that the bibliographies could not have been updated beyond 1995 and that Scherf's extensive references to illustrations, which in themselves constitute a minor history of folktale illustration, could not have been linked to a library of images. This enhancement would have been especially significant, since illustration plays an important role in narrative context and reception of published folktales. As it is, the digitized <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> offers an ideal model for future CD-ROM or web-based projects, which might include compendia of illustrations, or of folktale material in film and television, in video games, theme parks, multimedia and other interactive formats. <p> An implicit theme of the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> is the abiding power of folk tales to fascinate audiences across centuries, cultures, languages, ages and social classes. As even a casual Google search reveals, the <cite>Mrchenlexikon</cite> itself has had a wide audience and found numerous applications in a variety of scholarly, therapeutic and pedagogical settings. Now greatly enhanced by its digital format, it provides an engaging introduction to a wide group of folk tales and a new tool for exploring their uniqueness and their network of interconnections. <p> Notes <p> . Walter Scherf, <cite>Die Herausforderung des Dmons. Form und Funktion grausiger Kindermrchen</cite> (Munich: K. G. Sauer, 1987). <p> . Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, <cite>The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography</cite>, 2nd rev. ed. (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1961). <p> . Hans Jrg Uther, <cite>The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson</cite> (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004). <p> . See http://www.digitale-bibliothek.de . <p> . For further comments on the potential usefulness of digital formats for folklore research see Christoph Schmitt, "Review of <cite>Das Mrchenlexikon</cite>," H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews, February, 2004, http://www.h-net.org/mmreviews/showrev.cgi?path=678 . <p>
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Susan G. Figge. Review of , Das Mrchenlexikon.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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