The past half century has seen an ever increasing interest in the folktale. Collectors have been busy in all parts of the world listening to story-tellers, and with better and better techniques recording and publishing what they hear. Some scholars have made classifications and local surveys so as to bring the enormous mass of material into order; others have evolved methods for the study of oral narrative; and still others have used these methods to plot out the history of many of the well-known stories.
All this activity has served to bring light into many places that were formerly dark and to correct early or premature theories. We begin to see the oral tale as the most universal of all narrative forms, and to understand its relation to the literary stories of our own civilization. We are learning of the function of the tale in the lives of those who tell and those who listen, and of the nature of this art in different lands and different times.
The very mass of the materials thus assembled is so overwhelming that it remains largely unknown except to a small group of specialists. Yet the subject is by its nature of great importance to all serious students of literature, of anthropology, of psychology, and of art in general. For these and for all those readers who find interest in man's attempt to bring enjoyment to his leisure through the art of story-telling there is now no work which can serve as a guide. To help supply this lack is the purpose of the present volume.
In the introductory section I have endeavored to show the importance of the folktale in society as the narrative form still used by the great majority of human beings, both among the so-called primitive peoples and among the unlettered of our own culture. This has led to a comparison of the oral tale with other forms of oral literature on the one hand and with written narrative on the other.
The second part of the book contains an account of all the well-known folktales now current in countries belonging to our western civilization, with a brief account of their history and dissemination. The recounting of these tales and the summary of the findings of folktale scholarship for each is sufficiently detailed to serve as a practical introduction to the field. This part of the work continues with an account of the folktale in the ancient classical world as we are able to learn of it from literary remains; and it closes with a study of the impact of the tales of Europe and Western Asia on those of far-flung primitive peoples.
The folktale in those cultures outside our own which we usually call primitive is the subject of Part Three. To cover the whole world has not been . . .