The Transformation of Folktales and Fairy Tales into Popular Booklets

By Kaliambou, Maria | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Transformation of Folktales and Fairy Tales into Popular Booklets


Kaliambou, Maria, Marvels & Tales


Introduction: The Importance of Popular Booklets of Tales

From the very beginning of the history of books, in the middle of the fifteenth century popular print constituted an important part of book production. Chapbooks with various contents-among them booklets of tales-were produced and widely distributed in many European countries. Despite its significance, popular print was long ignored by the academic community, and only since the 1960s has research into theoretical and literary aspects of popular print begun. The same must be said about folktale and fairy-tale research, which, until recently and parallel with literary criticism, took only scholarly collections of oral tales into consideration, ignoring tales in popular booklets.

This article will focus on popular booklets of folktales and fairy tales published in Greece from 1870 to 1970. These popular prints, which do not belong to scholarly collections of the elite and thus have long been condemned as worthless, make up an important medium for the distribution of fairy tales in Greece.1 Folktales and fairy tales are often transformed in those booklets. Why is this so, and to what extent does it happen? Studying them demonstrates differentiated paths of transcribing and transforming literary tales into a popular medium. Evidence from these popular booklets contributes to our understanding of the dialogue between oral and popular written literature. Whether popular printed material influences oral literature and vice versa is a question of far-reaching historical and theoretical significance.

Popular Literature in Greece

The history of the Greek printed book began in 1476, when a Greek publisher published the first book in Greek in Milan, a center of Italian print (Staikos 135f.). In the early modern period, Greek-language publishing was largely carried on in international publishing centers such as Venice (with its remarkably large book production in Greek), Milan, and Leipzig, among others (Staikos and Sklavenitis); but with the establishment of the Greek state in 1830, publishers increasingly founded publishing houses within Greece.

The first Greek printed books were mainly religious or educational. Greek popular literature has existed from the very early years of Greek printing, a fact that leads Greek scholars to divide book production into two categories: "good," expensive elitarian books addressed to a well-educated readership, and "bad," cheap books for common use. According to the Greek historian and philologist Alkis Aggelou, however, until the middle of the nineteenth century the borders between "high" and "low" literature were fluid, and thus the dichotomy between them cannot be easily proved ("Lo laiko entipo"; "Logia kai laiki").2

In the nineteenth century Greek popular literature underwent a remarkable development. For the Greek philologist Panagiotis Moullas, the year 1845 marks the beginning of the mass distribution of popular literature in Greece. In that year novels by Alexander Dumas and Lugene Sue were translated into Greek, and from that point onward Western Luropean books were translated into Greek and distributed mostly in urban centers, so that one could speak of a "translated popular literature" (Moullas 116). Lhus, popular literature constituted a stable and conspicuous part of Greek editorial policy.

The expansion of popular books in the second half of the nineteenth century was accompanied by the first theoretical approaches to them begun in Greece. Lhe first definition of popular books was made by the founder of Greek folklore, Nikolaos Politis. In 1877 he noted their significance for the Greeks, because, according to him, they were for many years almost the only reading material of the Greeks under Lurkish rule ("Dimodi" [1877]: 176). Politis's list of popular Greek book titles includes the well-known Arabian Nights translated from Western Luropean languages and later distributed in the form of popular booklets of tales. …

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