We are going into Fairy Land for a little while, to see what we can find there to amuse and instruct us this Christmas time. Does anybody know the way? There are no maps or guidebooks, and the places we meet with in our workaday world do not seem like the homes of the Fairies. Yet we have only to put on our Wishing Caps, and we can get into Fairy Land in a moment.
The house-walls fade away, the winter sky brightens, the sun shines out, the weather grows warm and pleasant; flowers spring up, great trees cast a friendly shade, streams murmur cheerfully over their pebbly beds, jewelled fruits are to be had for the trouble of gathering them; invisible hands set out well-covered dinner-tables, brilliant and graceful forms flit in and out across our path, and we all at once find ourselves in the midst of a company of dear old friends whom we have known and loved ever since we knew anything.
There is Fortunatus with his magic purse, and the square of carpet that carries him anywhere; and Aladdin with his wonderful lamp; and Sindbad with the diamonds he has picked up in the Valley of Serpents; and the Invisible Prince, who uses the fairy cat to get his dinner for him; and the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, just awakened by the young Prince, after her long sleep of a hundred years; and Puss in Boots curling his whiskers after having eaten up the ogre who foolishly changed himself into a mouse; and Beauty and the Beast; and the Blue Bird; and Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Killer, and Jack and the Bean Stalk; and the Yellow Dwarf; and Cinderella and her fairy godmother; and great numbers besides, of whom we haven’t time to say anything now.
And when we come to look about us, we see that there are other dwellers in Fairy Land; giants and dwarfs, dragons and griffins, ogres with great white teeth, and wearing seven-leagued boots; and enchanters and magicians, who can change themselves into any forms they please, and can turn other people into stone. And there are beasts and birds who can talk, and fishes that come out on dry land, with golden rings in their mouths; and good maidens who drop rubies and pearls when they speak, and bad ones out of whose mouths come all kinds of ugly things. Then there are evil-minded fairies, who always want to be doing mischief; and there are good fairies, beautifully dressed, and with shining golden hair and bright blue eyes and jewelled coronets, and with magic wands in their hands, who go about watching the bad fairies, and always come just in time to drive them away, and so prevent them from doing harm–the sort of Fairies you see once a year at the pantomimes, only more beautiful, and more handsomely dressed, and more graceful in shape, and not so fat, and who do not paint their faces, which is a bad thing for any woman to do, whether fairy or mortal.
Altogether, this Fairy Land that we can make for ourselves in a moment, is a very pleasant and most delightful place, and one which all of us, young and old, may well desire to get into, even if we have to come back from it sooner than we like. It is just the country to suit everybody, for all of us can find in it whatever pleases him best. If he likes work, there is plenty of adventure; he can climb up mountains of steel, or travel over seas of glass, or engage in single combat with a giant, or dive down into the caves of the little red dwarfs and bring up their hidden treasures, or mount a horse that goes more swiftly than the wind, or go off on a long journey to find the water of youth and life, or do anything else that happens to be very dangerous and troublesome. If he doesn’t like work, it is again just the place to suit idle people, because it is all Midsummer holidays. I never heard of a school in Fairy Land, nor of masters with canes or birch rods, nor of impositions and long lessons to be learned when one gets home in the evening. Then the weather is so delightful. It is perpetual sunshine, so that you may lie out in the fields all day without catching cold; and yet it is not too hot, the sunshine being a sort of twilight, in which you see everything, quite clearly, but softly, and with beautiful colours, as if you were in a delightful dream.
And this goes on night and day, or at least what we call night, for they don’t burn gas there, or candles, or anything of that kind; so that there is no regular going to bed and getting up; you just lie down anywhere when you want to rest, and when you have rested, you wake up again, and go on with your travels. There is one capital thing about Fairy Land. There are no doctors there; not one in the whole country. Consequently nobody is ill, and there are no pills or powders, or brimstone and treacle, or senna tea, or being kept at home when you want to go out, or being obliged to go to bed early and have gruel instead of cake and sweetmeats. They don’t want the doctors, because if you cut your finger it gets well directly, and even when people are killed, or are turned into stones, or when anything else unpleasant happens, it can all be put right in a minute or two. All you have to do when you are in trouble is to go and look for some wrinkled old woman in a patched old brown cloak, and be very civil to her, and to do cheerfully and kindly any service she asks of you, and then she will throw off the dark cloak, and become a young and beautiful Fairy Queen, and wave her magic wand, and everything will fall out just as you would like to have it.
As to Time, they take no note of it in Fairy Land. The Princess falls asleep for a hundred years, and wakes up quite rosy, and young, and beautiful. Friends and sweethearts are parted for years, and nobody seems to think they have grown older when they meet, or that life has become shorter, and so they fall to their youthful talk as if nothing had happened. Thus the dwellers in Fairy Land have no cares about chronology. With them there is no past or future; it is all present–so there are no disagreeable dates to learn, nor tables of kings, and when they reigned, or who succeeded them, or what battles they fought, or anything of that kind. Indeed there are no such facts to be learned, for when kings are wicked in Fairy Land, a powerful magician comes and twists their heads off, or puts them to death somehow; and when they are good kings they seem to live for ever, and always to be wearing rich robes and royal golden crowns, and to be entertaining Fairy Queens, and receiving handsome brilliant gifts from everybody who knows them.
Now this is Fairy Land, the dear sweet land of Once Upon a Time, where there is constant light, and summer days, and everlasting flowers, and pleasant fields and streams, and long dreams without rough waking, and ease of life, and all things strange and beautiful; where nobody wonders at anything that may happen; where good fairies are ever on the watch to help those whom they love; where youth abides, and there is no pain or death, and all trouble fades away, and whatever seems hard is made easy, and all things that look wrong come right in the end, and truth and goodness have their perpetual triumph, and the world is ever young.
And Fairy Land is always the same, and always has been, whether it is close to us–so close that we may enter it in a moment–or whether it is far off; in the stories that have come to us from the most ancient days, and the most distant lands, and in those which kind and clever story-tellers write for us now. It is the same in the legends of the mysterious East, as old as the beginning of life; the same in the glowing South, in the myths of ancient Greece; the same in the frozen regions of the Scandinavian North, and in the forests of the great Teuton land, and in the Islands of the West; the same in the tales that nurses tell to the little ones by the fireside on winter evenings, and in the songs that mothers sing to hush their babes to sleep; the same in the delightful folk-lore that Grimm has collected for us, and that dear Hans Andersen has but just ceased to tell.
All the chief stories that we know so well are to be found in all times, and in almost all countries. Cinderella, for one, is told in the language of every country in Europe, and the same legend is found in the fanciful tales related by the Greek poets; and still further back, it appears in very ancient Hindu legends. So, again, does Beauty and the Beast, so does our own familiar tale of Jack the Giant Killer, so also do a great number of other fairy stories, each being told in different countries and in different periods, with so much likeness as to show that all the versions came from the same source, and yet with so much difference as to show that none of the versions are directly copied from each other.
Indeed, when we compare the myths and legends of one country with another, and of one period with another, we find out how they have come to be so much alike, and yet in some things so different. We see that there must have been one origin for all these stories, that they must have been invented by one people, that this people must have been afterwards divided, and that each part or division of it must have brought into its new home the legends once common to them all, and must have shaped and altered these according, to the kind of places in which they came to live: those of the North being sterner and more terrible, those of the South softer and fuller of light and colour, and adorned with touches of more delicate fancy. And this, indeed, is really the case. All the chief stories and legends are alike, because they were first made by one people; and all the nations in which they are now told in one form or another tell them because they are all descended from this one common stock.
If you travel amongst them, or talk to them, or read their history, and learn their languages, the nations of Europe seem to be altogether unlike each other; they have different speech and manners, and ways of thinking, and forms of government, and even different looks–for you can tell them from one another by some peculiarity of appearance. Yet, in fact, all these nations belong to one great family–English, and German, and Russian, and French, and Italian, and Spanish, the nations of the North, and the South, and the West, and partly of the East of Europe, all came from one stock; and so did the Romans and Greeks who went before them; and so also did the Medes and Persians, and the Hindus, and some other peoples who have always remained in Asia. And to the people from whom all these nations have sprung learned men have given two names. Sometimes they are called the Indo-Germanic or Indo-European race, to show how widely they extend; and sometimes they are called the Aryan race, from a word which is found in their language, and which comes from the root “ar,” to plough, and is supposed to mean noble, or of a good family.
But how do we know that there were any such people, and that we in England are descended from them, or that they were the forefathers of the other nations of Europe, and of the Hindus, and of the old Greeks and Romans? We know it by a most curious and ingenious process of what may be called digging out and building up. Some of you may remember that years ago there was found in New Zealand a strange-looking bone, which nobody could make anything of, and which seemed to have belonged to some creature quite lost to the world as we know it. This bone was sent home to England to a great naturalist, Professor Owen, of the British Museum, who looked at it, turned it over, thought about it, and then came to the conclusion that it was a bone which had once formed part of a gigantic bird. Then; by degrees, he began to see the kind of general form which such a bird must have presented, and finally, putting one thing to another, and fitting part to part, he declared it to be a bird of gigantic size, and of a particular character, which he was able to describe; and this opinion was confirmed by later discoveries of other bones and fragments, so that an almost complete skeleton of the Dinornis may now be seen in this country.
Well, our knowledge of the Aryan people, and of our own descent from them, has been found out in much the same way. Learned men observed, as a curious thing, that in various European languages there were words of the same kind, and having the same root forms; they found also that these forms of roots existed in the older language of Greece; and then they found that they existed also in Sanskrit, the oldest language of India–that in which the sacred books of the Hindus are written. They discovered, further, that these words and their roots meant always the same things, and this led to the natural belief that they came from the same source. Then, by closer inquiry into the Vedas, or Hindu sacred books, another discovery was made, namely, that while the Sanskrit has preserved the words of the original language in their most primitive or earliest state, the other languages derived from the same source have kept some forms plainly coming from the same roots, but which Sanskrit has lost. Thus we are carried back to a language older than Sanskrit, and of which this is only one of the forms, and from this we know that there was a people which used a common tongue; and if different forms of this common tongue are found in India, in Persia, and throughout Europe, we know that the races which inhabit these countries must, at sometime, have parted from the parent stock, and must have carried their language and their traditions along with them. So, to find out who these people were, we have to go back to the sacred books of the Hindus and the Persians, and to pick out whatever facts may be found there, and thus to build up the memorial of the Aryan race, just as Professor Owen built up the great New Zealand bird.
It would take too long, and would be much too dry, to show how this process has been completed step by step, and bit by bit. That belongs to a study called comparative philology, and to another called comparative mythology–that is, the studies of words and of myths, or legends–which some of those who read these pages may pursue with interest in after years. All that need be done now is to bring together such accounts of the Aryan people, our forefathers, as may be gathered from the writings of the learned men who have made this a subject of inquiry, and especially from the works of German and French writers, and more particularly from those of Mr. Max Müller, an eminent German, who lives amongst us in England, who writes in English, and who has done more, perhaps, than anybody else, to tell us what we know about this matter.
As to when the Aryans lived we know nothing, but that it was thousands of years ago, long before history began. As to the kind of people they were we know nothing in a direct way. They have left no traces of themselves in buildings, or weapons, or enduring records of any kind. There are no ruins of their temples or tombs, no pottery–which often helps to throw light upon ancient peoples-no carvings upon rocks or stones. It is only by the remains of their language that we can trace them; and we do this through the sacred books of the Hindus and Persians-the Vedas and the Zend Avesta–in which remains of their language are found, and by means of which, therefore, we get to know something about their dwelling-place, their manners, their customs, their religion, and their legends–the source and origin of our Fairy Tales.
In the Zend Avesta–the oldest sacred book of the Persians–or in such fragments of it as are left, there are sixteen countries spoken of as having been given by Ormuzd, the Good Deity, for the Aryans to live in; and these countries are described as a land of delight, which was turned, by Ahriman, the Evil Deity, into a land of death and cold; partly, it is said, by a great flood, which is described as being like Noah’s flood recorded in the Book of Genesis. This land, as nearly as we can make it out, seems to have been the high, central district of Asia, to the north and west of the great chain of mountains of the Hindu Koush, which form the frontier barrier of the present country of the Afghans. It stretched, probably, from the sources of the river Oxus to the shores of the Caspian Sea; and when the Aryans moved from their home, it is thought that the easterly portion of the tribes were those who marched southwards into India and Persia, and that those who were nearest the Caspian Sea marched westwards into Europe. It is not supposed that they were all one united people, but rather a number of tribes, having a common origin–though what was this original stock is quite beyond any knowledge we have, or even beyond our powers of conjecture. But, though the Aryan peoples were divided into tribes, and were spread over a tract of country nearly as large as half Europe, we may properly describe them generally, for so far as our knowledge goes, all the tribes had the same character.
They were a pastoral people–that is, their chief work was to look after their herds of cattle and to till the earth. Of this we find proof in the words and roots remaining of their language. From the same source, also, we know that they lived in dwellings built with wood and stone; that these dwellings were grouped together in villages; that they were fenced in against enemies, and that enclosures were formed to keep the cattle from straying, and that roads of some kind were made from one village to another. These things show that the Aryans had some claim to the name they took, and that in comparison with their forefathers, or with the savage or wandering tribes they knew, they had a right to call themselves respectable, excellent, honourable, masters, heroes–for all these are given as probable meanings of their name. Their progress was shown in another way. The rudest and earliest tribes of men used weapons of flint, roughly shaped into axes and spear-heads, or other cutting implements, with which they defended themselves in conflict, or killed the beasts of chase, or dug up the roots on which they lived. The Aryans were far in advance of this condition. They did not, it is believed, know the use of iron, but they knew and used gold, silver, and copper; they made weapons and other implements of bronze; they had ploughs to till the ground, and axes, and probably saws, for the purpose of cutting and shaping timber. Of pottery and weaving they knew something: the western tribes certainly used hemp and flax as materials for weaving, and when the stuff was woven the women made it into garments by the use of the needle. Thus we get a certain division of trades or occupations. There were the tiller of the soil, the herdsman, the smith who forged the tools and weapons of bronze, the joiner or carpenter who built the houses, and the weaver who made the clothing required for protection against a climate which was usually cold. Then there was also the boat-builder, for the Aryans had boats, though moved only by oars. There was yet another class, the makers of personal ornaments, for these people had rings, bracelets, and necklaces made of the precious metals.
Of trade the Aryans knew something; but they had no coined money–all the trade was done by exchange of one kind of cattle, or grain or goods, for another. They had regulations as to property, their laws punished crime with fine, imprisonment, or death, just as ours do. They seem to have been careful to keep their liberties, the families being formed into groups, and these into tribes or clans, under the rule of an elected chief, while it is probable that a Great Chief or King ruled over several tribes and led them to war, or saw that the laws were put into force.
Now we begin to see something of these ancient forefathers of ours, and to understand what kind of people they were. Presently we shall have to look into their religion, out of which our Fairy Stories were really made; but first, there are one or two other things to be said about them. One of these shows that they were far in advance of savage races, for they could count as high as one hundred, while savages can seldom get further than the number of their fingers; and they had also advanced so far as to divide the year into twelve months, which they took from the changes of the moon. Then their family relations were very close and tender. “Names were given to the members of families related by marriage as well as by blood. A welcome greeted the birth of children, as of those who brought joy to the home; and the love that should be felt between brother and sister was shown in the names given to them: bhrâtar (or brother) being he who sustains or helps; svâsar (or sister) she who pleases or consoles. The daughter of each household was called duhitâr, from duh, a root which in Sanskrit means to milk, by which we know that the girls in those days were the milking-maids. Father comes from a root, pâ, which means to protect or support; mother, mâtar, has the meaning of maker.”
Now we may sum up what we know of this ancient people and their ways; and we find in them much that is to be found in their descendants–the love of parents and children, the closeness of family ties, the protection of life and property, the maintenance of law and order, and, as we shall see presently, a great reverence for God. Also, they were well versed in the arts of life–they built houses, formed villages or towns, made roads, cultivated the soil, raised great herds of cattle and other animals; they made boats and land-carriages, worked in metals for use and ornament, carried on trade with each other, knew how to count, and were able to divide their time so as to reckon by months and days as well as by seasons. Besides all this, they had something more and of still higher value, for the fragments of their ancient poems or hymns preserved in the Hindu and Persian sacred books show that they thought much of the spirit of man as well as of his bodily life; that they looked upon sin as an evil to be punished or forgiven by the Gods, that they believed in a life after the death of the body, and that they had a strong feeling for natural beauty and a love of searching into the wonders of the earth and of the heavens.
The religion of the Aryan races, in its beginning, was a very simple and a very noble one. They looked up to the heavens and saw the bright sun, and the light and beauty and glory of the day. They saw the day fade into night and the clouds draw themselves across the sky, and then they saw the dawn and the light and life of another day. Seeing these things, they felt that some Power higher than man ordered and guided them; and to this great Power they gave the name of Dyaus, from a root-word which means “to shine.” And when, out of the forces and forms of Nature, they afterwards fashioned other Gods, this name of Dyaus became Dyaus pitár, the Heaven-Father, or Lord of All; and in far later times, when the western Aryans had found their home in Europe, the Dyaus pitár of the central Asian land became the ZeupÄter of the Greeks, and the Jupiter of the Romans; and the first part of his name gave us the word Deity, which we apply to God. So, as Professor Max Müller tells us, the descendants of the ancient Aryans, “when they search for a name for what is most exalted and yet most dear to every one of us, when they wish to express both awe and love, the infinite and the finite, they can do but what their old fathers did when gazing up to the eternal sky, and feeling the presence of a Being as far as far, and as near as near can be; they can but combine the self-same words and utter once more the primeval Aryan prayer, Heaven-Father, in that form which will endure for ever, ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven.'”
The feeling which the Aryans had towards the Heaven-Father is very finely shown in one of the oldest hymns in the Rig Veda, or the Book of Praise–a hymn written 4,000 years ago, and addressed to Varuna, or the All-Surrounder, the ancient Hindu name for the chief deity:–
“Let me not, O Varuna, enter into the house of clay.
Have mercy! Almighty, have mercy!
If I go trembling, like a cloud driven by the wind,
Have mercy! Almighty, have mercy!
Through want of strength, thou strong and bright God,
have I gone wrong;
Have mercy! Almighty, have mercy!”
But, besides Dyaus pítar, or Varuna, the Aryans worshipped other gods, whom they made for themselves out of the elements, and the changes of night and day, and the succession of the seasons. They worshipped the sky, the earth, the sun, the dawn, fire, water, and wind. The chief of these deities were Agni, the fire; Prithiví, the earth; Ushas, the dawn; Mitra, or Sürya, the sun; Indra, the sky; Maruts, the storm-winds; and Varuna, the All-Surrounder. To these deities sacrifice was offered and prayer addressed; but they had no priests or temples–these came in later ages, when men thought they had need of others to stand between them and God.
But the ancient Aryans saw the Deity everywhere, and stood face to face with Him in Nature. He was to them the early morning, the brightness of midday, the gloom of evening, the darkness of night, the flash of the lightning, the roll of the thunder, and the rush of the mighty storm-wind. It seems strange to us that those who could imagine the one Heaven-Father should degrade Him by making a multitude of Gods; but this came easily to them, partly out of a desire to account for all they saw in Nature, and which their fancy clothed in divine forms, and partly out of reverence for the great All Father, by filling up the space between Him and themselves with inferior Gods, all helping to make His greatness the greater and His power the mightier.
We cannot look into this old religion of the Aryans any further, because our business is to see how their legends are connected with the myths and stories which are spread by their descendants over a great part of East and West. Now this came about in the way we are going to describe.
The mind of the Aryan peoples in their ancient home was full of imagination. They never ceased to wonder at what they heard and saw in the sky and upon the earth. Their language was highly figurative, and so the things which struck them with wonder, and which they could not explain, were described under forms and names which were familiar to them. Thus the thunder was to them the bellowing of a mighty beast or the rolling of a great chariot. In the lightning they saw a brilliant serpent, or a spear shot across the sky, or a great fish darting swiftly through the sea of cloud. The clouds were heavenly cows, who shed milk upon the earth and refreshed it; or they were webs woven by heavenly women, who drew water from the fountains on high and poured it down as rain.
The sun was a radiant wheel, or a golden bird, or an eye, or a shining egg, or a horse of matchless speed, or a slayer of the cloud-dragons. Sometimes it was a frog, when it seemed to be sinking into or squatting upon the water; and out of this fancy, when the meaning of it was lost, there grew a Sanskrit legend, which is to be found also in Teutonic and Celtic myths. This story is, that Bheki (the frog) was a lovely maiden who was found by a king, who asked her to be his wife. So she married him, but only on condition that he should never show her a drop of water. One day she grew tired, and asked for water. The king gave it to her, and she sank out of his sight; in other words, the sun disappears when it touches the water.
This imagery of the Aryans was applied by them to all they saw in the sky. Sometimes, as we have said, the clouds were cows; they were also dragons, which sought to slay the sun; or great ships floating across the sky, and casting anchor upon earth; or rocks, or mountains, or deep caverns, in which evil deities hid the golden light. Then, also, they were shaped by fancy into animals of various kinds-the bear, the wolf, the dog, the ox; and into giant birds, and into monsters which were both bird and beast.
The Winds, again, in their fancy, were the companions or the ministers of Indra, the sky-god. The Maruts, or spirits of the winds, gathered into their host the souls of the dead–thus giving birth to the Scandinavian and Teutonic legend of the Wild Horseman, who rides at midnight through the stormy sky, with his long train of dead behind him, and his weird hounds before. The Ribhus, or Arbhus, again, were the sunbeams or the lightning, who forged the armour of the Gods, and made their thunderbolts, and turned old people young, and restored out of the hide alone the slaughtered cow on which the Gods had feasted.
Out of these heavenly artificers, the workers of the clouds, there came, in later times, two of the most striking stories of ancient legend–that of Thor, the Scandinavian thunder-god, who feasted at night on the goats which drew his chariot, and in the morning, by a touch of his hammer, brought them back to life; and that of Orpheus in the beautiful Greek legend, the master of divine song, who moved the streams, and rocks, and trees, by the beauty of his music, and brought back his wife Eurydike from the shades of death.
In our Western fairy tales we still have these Ribhus, or Arbhus, transformed, through various changes of language, into Albs, and Elfen, and last into our English Elves. It is not needful to go further into the fanciful way in which the old Aryans slowly made ever-increasing deities and superhuman beings for themselves out of all the forms and aspects of Nature; or how their Hindu and Persian and Greek and Teuton descendants peopled all earth, and air, and sky, and water, with good and bad spirits and imaginary powers. But, as we shall see later, all these creatures grew out of one thing only–the Sun, and his influence upon the earth.
Aryan myths were no more than poetic fancies about light and darkness, cloud and rain, night and day, storm and wind; and when they moved westward and southward, the Aryan races brought these legends with them; and they were shaped by degrees into the innumerable gods and demons of the Hindus, the divs and jinns of the Persians, the great gods, the minor deities, and nymphs, and fauns, and satyrs of Greek mythology and poetry; the stormy divinities, the giants, and trolls of the cold and rugged North; the dwarfs of the German forests; the elves who dance merrily in the moonlight of an English summer; and the “good people” who play mischievous tricks upon stray peasants amongst the Irish hills. Almost all, indeed, that we have of a legendary kind comes to us from our Aryan forefathers; sometimes scarcely changed, sometimes so altered that we have to puzzle out the links between the old and the new; but all these myths and traditions, and Old-world stories, when we come to know the meaning of them, take us back to the time when the Aryan races dwelt together in the high lands of Central Asia, and they all mean the same things–that is, the relation between the sun and the earth, the succession of night and day, of winter and summer, of storm and calm, of cloud and tempest, and golden sunshine and bright blue sky. And this is the source from which we get our Fairy Stories; for underneath all of them there are the same fanciful meanings, only changed and altered in the way of putting them, by the lapse of ages of time, by the circumstances of different countries, and by the fancy of those who kept the wonderful tales alive without knowing what they meant.
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 Rhodopê–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 Rhodopê, 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 Phœbus 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.” There, too, are legends which resemble those of Orpheus and EurydikÄ“, of Eros and PsychÄ“, 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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