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Origin of Fairy Stories (2)

By John Thackray Bunce

When the change happened that brought about all this, we do not know. It was thousands of years ago that the Aryan people began their march out of their old country in mid-Asia. But from the remains of their language and the likeness of their legends to those amongst other nations, we do know that ages and ages ago their country grew too small for them, so they were obliged to move away from it. They could not go eastward, for the great mountains shut them in; they could not go northward, for the great desert was too barren for their flocks and herds. So they turned, some of them southward into India and Persia, and some of them westward into Europe-at the time, perhaps, when the land of Europe stretched from the borders of Asia to our own islands, and when there was no sea between us and what is now the mainland. How they made their long and toilsome march we know not. But, as Kingsley writes of such a movement of an ancient tribe, so we may fancy these old Aryans marching westward-"the tall, bare-limbed men, with stone axes on their shoulders and horn bows at their backs, with herds of grey cattle, guarded by huge lop-eared mastiffs, with shaggy white horses, heavy-horned sheep and silky goats, moving always westward through the boundless steppes, whither or why we know not, but that the All-Father had sent them forth. And behind us [he makes them say] the rosy snow-peaks died into ghastly grey, lower and lower, as every evening came; and before us the plains spread infinite, with gleaming salt-lakes, and ever-fresh tribes of gaudy flowers. Behind us, dark: lines of living beings streamed down the mountain slopes; around us, dark lines crawled along the plains-westward, westward ever. Who could stand against us? We met the wild asses on the steppe, and tamed them, and made them our slaves. We slew the bison herds, and swam broad rivers on their skins. The Python snake lay across our path; the wolves and wild dogs snarled at us out of their coverts; we slew them and went on. The forests rose in black tangled barriers, we hewed our way through them and went on. Strange giant tribes met us, and eagle-visaged hordes, fierce and foolish; we smote them, hip and thigh, and went on, west-ward ever." And so, as they went on, straight towards the west, or as they turned north and south, and thus overspread new lands, they brought with them their old ways of thought and forms of belief, and the stories in which these had taken form; and on these were built up the Gods and Heroes, and all wonder-working creatures and things, and the poetical fables and fancies which have come down to us, and which still linger in our customs and our Fairy Tales bright and sunny and many coloured in the warm regions of the south; sterner and wilder and rougher in the north; more homelike in the middle and western countries; but always alike in their main features, and always having the same meaning when we come to dig it out; and these forms and this meaning being the same in the lands of the Western Aryans as in those still peopled by the Aryans of the East.

It would take a very great book to give many examples of the myths and stories which are alike in all the Aryan countries; but we may see by one instance what the likeness is; and it shall be a story which all will know when they read it.

Once upon a time there was a Hindu Rajah, who had an only daughter, who was born with a golden necklace. In this necklace was her soul; and if the necklace were taken off and worn by some one else, the Princess would die. On one of her birthdays the Rajah gave his daughter a pair of slippers with ornaments of gold and gems upon them. The Princess went out upon a mountain to pluck the flowers that grew there, and while she was stooping to pluck them one of her slippers came off and fell down into a forest below. A Prince, who was hunting in the forest, picked up the lost slipper, and was so charmed with it that he desired to make its owner his wife. So he made his wish known everywhere, but nobody came to claim the slipper, and the poor Prince grew very sad. At last some people from the Rajah's country heard of it, and told the Prince where to find the Rajah's daughter; and he went there, and asked for her as his wife, and they were married. Sometime after, another wife of the Prince, being jealous of the Rajah's daughter, stole her necklace, and put it on her own neck, and then the Rajah's daughter died. But her body did not decay, nor did her face lose its bloom; and the Prince went every day to see her, for he loved her very much although she was dead. Then he found out the secret of the necklace, and got it back again, and put it on his dead wife's neck, and her soul was born again in her, and she came back to life, and they lived happy ever after.

This Hindu story of the lost slipper is met with again in a legend of the ancient Greeks, which tells that while a beautiful woman, named Rhodope-or the rosy-cheeked-was bathing, an eagle picked up one of her slippers and flew away with it, and carried it off to Egypt, and dropped it in the lap of the King of that country, as he sat at Memphis on the judgment-seat. The slipper was so small and beautiful that the King fell in love with the wearer of it, and had her sought for, and when she was found he made her his wife. Another story of the same kind. It is found in many countries, in various forms, and is that of Cinderella, the poor neglected maiden, whom her stepmother set to work in the kitchen, while her sisters went to the grand balls and feasts at the King's palace. You know how Cinderella's fairy godmother came and dressed her like a princess, and sent her to the ball; how the King's son fell in love with her; how she lost one of her slippers, which the Prince picked up; how he vowed that he would marry the maiden who could fit on the lost slipper; how all the ladies of the court tried to do it, and failed, Cinderella's sisters amongst them; and how Cinderella herself put on the slipper, produced the fellow to it, was married to the King's son, and lived happily with him.

Now the story of Cinderella helps us to find out the meaning of our Fairy Tales; and takes us back straight to the far-off land where fairy legends began, and to the people who made them. Cinderella, and Rhodope, and the Hindu Rajah's daughter, and the like, are but different forms of the same ancient myth. It is the story of the Sun and the Dawn. Cinderella, grey and dark, and dull, is all neglected when she is away from the Sun, obscured by the envious Clouds her sisters, and by her stepmother the Night. So she is Aurora, the Dawn, and the fairy Prince is the Morning Sun, ever pursuing her, to claim her for his bride. This is the legend as we find it in the ancient Hindu sacred books; and this explains at once the source and the meaning of the Fairy Tale.

Nor is it in the story of Cinderella alone that we trace the ancient Hindu legends. There is scarcely a tale of Greek or Roman mythology, no legend of Teutonic or Celtic or Scandinavian growth, no great romance of what we call the middle ages, no fairy story taken down from the lips of ancient folk, and dressed for us in modern shape and tongue, that we do not find, in some form or another, in these Eastern poems. The Greek gods are there-Zeus, the Heaven-Father, and his wife Hera, "and Phoebus Apollo the Sun-god, and Pallas Athene, who taught men wisdom and useful arts, and Aphrodite the Queen of Beauty, and Poseidon the Ruler of the Sea, and Hephaistos the King of the Fire, who taught men to work in metals."[2] There, too, are legends which resemble those of Orpheus and Eurydike, of Eros and Psyche, of Jason and the Golden Fleece, of the labours of Herakles, of Sigurd and Brynhilt, of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There, too, in forms which can be traced with ease, we have the stories of Fairyland-the germs of the Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights, the narratives of giants, and dwarfs, and enchanters; of men and maidens transformed by magic arts into beasts and birds; of riches hidden in the caves and bowels of the earth, and guarded by trolls and gnomes; of blessed lands where all is bright and sunny, and where there is neither work nor care. Whatever, indeed, is strange or fanciful, or takes us straight from our grey, hard-working world into the sweet and peaceful country of Once Upon a Time, is to be found in these ancient Hindu books, and is repeated, from the source whence they were drawn, in many countries of the East and West; for the people whose traditions the Vedas record were the forefathers of those who now dwell in India, in Persia, in the border-lands, and in most parts of Europe. Yes; strange as it may seem, all of us, who differ so much in language, in looks in customs and ways of thought, in all that marks out one nation from another-all of us have a common origin and a common kindred. Greek and Roman, and Teuton and Kelt and Slav, ancient and modern, all came from the same stock. English and French, Spanish and Germans, Italians and Russians, all unlike in outward show, are linked together in race; and not only with each other, but also claim kindred with the people who now fill the fiery plains of India, and dwell on the banks of her mighty rivers, and on the slopes of her great mountain-chains, and who still recite the sacred books, and sing the ancient hymns from which the mythology of the West is in great part derived, whence our folk-lore comes, and which give life and colour and meaning to our legends of romance and our Tales of Fairyland.

By taking a number of stories containing the same idea, but related in different ages and in countries far away from each other, we shall see how this likeness of popular tradition runs through all of them, and shows their common origin. So we will go to the next chapter, and tell a few kindred tales from East and West, and South and North.

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