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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/446

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438
Some Recent Utterances of

Irish and Scandinavian sagas quite unaffected by feudalism properly so called, that the chiefs son was of as much interest to the maidens of his day as he would be in the Middle Ages or at the present time. Indeed, it might rather be argued that the mediaeval story-teller would insist upon good blood in his heroine—beautiful, of course, she must needs be, or she were not a heroine at all, but in addition she must also turn out to be a king's daughter, or else she were no mate for a king's son. So that internal evidence seems to me rather against than in favour of the "feudal" origin of the story, if "feudal" is used to design a definite historical period characterised by definite political and social institutions. Again, in his comment on the "Tattercoats" variant, Mr. Jacobs says: "It is an instance of the folk-novel pure and simple, without any admixture of those unnatural incidents which transform the folk-novel into the serious folk-tale as we are accustomed to have it. Which is the prior, folk-novel or tale, it would be hard to say." Mr. Newell would probably disavow the dubitative turn of the last sentence, and would unhesitatingly assert the priority of the folk-novel "transformed by the admixture of unnatural incidents" into the fairy tale we all know.

Here we are brought face to face with the real crux of the märchen or "serious folk-tale", namely, the presence of "unnatural incidents". How skilfully does Mr. Jacobs suggest that this element is extraneous by his use of the word "admixture"! Yet that is the very point that has to be decided, and the word is a wholly question-begging one. How then is the crux dealt with? It need hardly be said that in Cinderella, almost more than in any other folk-tale, it is indeed the crux. For in the Cinderella group we find animal parentage, animal help, speaking animals, resuscitation from bones, magic dresses, transformation, mutilation, all of which are certainly "unnatural" incidents, if by unnatural is meant out of accord with the observed facts of life.