When we read German Märchen, the diversity of its content amazes us. When we try to translate Märchen as Fairytale, amazement turns to confusion. Why do we find animal characters in fairytale? If we consider Märchen as folktale, why then Strindberg’s fine stories are called Märchen?
We have to understand that Märchen are illustrative prosaic narration without idea of space and time. This ignores reality and focuses on protagonist. Confrontation between good and evil as well as presence of natural and supernatural forces indispensable. Also Good and Evil are clearly distinguished here. Usually the good wins in the end while wish-fulfillment of hopeful ending distinguishes Märchen from other kinds of folktales and that is reason these are equated with fairytales; not because Märchen has same features like English folktales. According to content Märchen can be divided into four categories.
Zaubermärchen is “real” fairytales which narrates the miraculous ways that bring fortune for the hero and heroin. The miracle is obvious here, as it is found in the Frog-prince in the Grimm’s fairy tales. Tale of enchantment and liberation from sorcery is the theme of most of these types of Märchen. E.g. Enchanted princess in our last series.
Novellenmärchen describe “unheard occurrences” like the literary novel does. Common or natural incidents appear as miracle helping to reach the happy ending. Remember the story of the Artful thief?
Schwankmärchen is droll fairytale where hero wins fortune by using own wit, smartness and courage; not magical power or supernatural power. Applying own skill he defeats the sorcery that is used against him.
Tiermärchen are those where we see animals as characters, hero and heroine, but unlike fable these do not end with a moral. Only the story of the triumph of good animals against the bad or odd is ensured. “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten” is good example.
Again, according to origin, Märchen can be divided into two categories. Volksmärchen or Folktale, and Kunstmärchen or fairy tale.
European folktale is much-discussed segment of world literature which were orally transmitted stories created, developed and popularized by unknown people, i.e. people of the land. The Swiss Literary scholar Max Lüthi tales folktales are one-dimensional, their characters are surreal and their style abstract. The hero here is simultaneously isolated and connected. The theme is originated from a twisted and often sublime reality. The characters including hero and heroine are transparent but rarely possess individual quality.
Contrary to folktales, Kunstmärchen are written by individual author like any fictional story. The author’s work is not evaluated on the basis of some literary rating, but his style and content becomes matter of interest. Fairy tales created by Hans Christian Anderson or Wilhelm Hauff belong to this category.
In this series, we will present all categories of Märchen. I will present mostly German Märchen but first one was originally written in another European language – Swedish – which I read in German. This is our a Kunstmärchen.
The Author Johan August Strindberg was a famous 19th century Swedish author, playwright, poet and painter. He stayed in Germany during 1892-1899 and spent considerable time with studies of naturalism, surrealism and occult, later with symbolism; obvious that when he wrote Kunstmärchen, it became example of unique Märchen – not for dramatic twists or heroic achievement but illustration of a melancholic expression. Subject of many of his famous paintings was expressionist seascape. We find the same flavour in this story published in 1904.