Well, this post is going to be a bit different, since I’ll essentially be presenting and reviewing two out-of-print French books, but stick with me.
Two Christmases ago I received several collections of Alsatian/Lorraine and Breton/Gallo folklore to feed my obsession. Among them were Alsatian-centric Dragons, fantômes, et trésors cachés : légendes, traditions et contes d’Alsace, with text by Guy Trendel and illustrations by Thierry Christmann (1988) and Contes populaires et légendes d’Alsace. Translating to: Dragons, ghosts, and hidden treasures: legends, traditions, and folktales of Alsace, and Folktales and legends of Alsace.
I’d gone into the request for more books of folklore hoping that, since folktales belong to the people, that the folklorists would be presenting their tales as-told-by the people, maybe with some light editing for readability. I know of collections that are essentially dictations of oral recordings, with names and ages stated of the individuals telling the tales. Adolphe Orain, for example, is a 19th century Breton-Gallo folklorist who did just that.
However, while researching a few of the tales in Contes populaires, I looked into the resources quoted in the bibliography, tracked down and compared the present telling to the original recording and discovered that it had been significantly pared down and adapted. I was then presented with the conundrum–does the folktale still count as belonging to the people in the past, does it still count as being “public domain” and open to translation, if the tale has been adapted and altered so much? If the folklorist has added so much of their own touch? What is the nature of folklore, as it’s being passed down?
If you’ve been following my folktale and fairy tale translations on little translator, you know I’ve been sticking to–or trying my best to stick to–tales that are freely available. But I didn’t realize when I started how many grey areas there would be to try and avoid.
Last year I translated the tale “Le chasseur vert” or “The Green Hunter” from the collection Contes populaires and offered it to my Patreon supporters while I was in the midst of trying to figure all this out. Since I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be better to stick to only translating folklore from their original publications in the 19th century and earlier and, unfortunately, avoid any modern folklore collections, I’m going to make a change.
There is something I can do with these more modern-day folktale collections, however, and that is to show you how awesome they are, present you with their bibliographies in case any of you encountering this post also wish to read original French folklore or do similar research as me, aaaaand give you a token translation as part of this review. I won’t make a habit of it, but I do still want to do all this cultural heritage justice. It’s really hard to do research across borders, and I want to make it easier.
So, without further ado, “The Green Hunter” from page 182.
“The Green Hunter”
The Green Hunter hunts men.
A poor woman from Saint-Amarin valley went on pilgrimage to Thierenbach. Once arrived at the foot of the Freundstein castle ruins, she considered for a moment the vulture nests perched atop the rocks and, at the thought of every lord past, present, and future, she began to murmur inwardly against God who would not give her even enough to buy a new pair of shoes.
All at once, she saw a small pile of écu blanc coins shining at her feet. As she bent to collect the treasure she cast a furtive glance around her; consequently, she perceived at some distance away a hunter clothed in green who was watching her beneath furrowed brows. Seized with fright, she left the coins behind and continued on her way through the forest, quickening her pace and regretting the loss of such a great fortune. On the other side of the castle ruins, she met a man walking alone, though he had a certain air of charm and grace and a smile on his lips. This affable gentleman condescended to address her and inquired after the reason for her sadness, sympathized with her, approved her complaints, took part in her grousing, and even encouraged her: together they broke the valley’s silence with their ranting.
Suddenly, the stranger’s eyes gleamed darkly. A terrible smile split open his mouth, revealing pointed teeth. It was the Green Hunter.
He took a cord from his pocket, strangled the old woman, and hung her from a branch.
One of the great things about taking a survey of folklore collections’ table of contents is that you can start to see a pattern.
For example, there are many familiar themes: Catholic saints and miracles are as important as tales of ghosts in the cities and faeries in the woods. “Une nuit dans les bois” features a man who gets lost in the woods and what he discovers. “La chasse maudite” is yet another tale of a sort of Wild Hunt. “Le guerrier dormant” is about a mysterious sleeping warrior–a historical figure who might awake when needed to save them?
But there are also repeating, specific tales: “Le pont des fées” or “The Faeries’ Bridge” has been told in so many different versions for this region that I included it in my growing collection of translations. “La légende de l’horloge” or “The Legend of the Clock” also is a local favorite. Likewise, “The Silver Rose” which features in “Petit légendaire alsacien,” and “The Legend of Hans-Trapp,” a sort of bogeyman to scare children into being good. Not to mention, a whole slew of legends about the Strasbourg cathedral.
The repeating themes and tales are what I look for when trying to find something representative to translate.
Another use for surveying tables of content is you can see a pattern of everyone’s favorite go-to folklorists for the region, which you can then use in your own research. Names such as Auguste Stoeber (who wrote in German), Prosper Baur, and Abbé Charles Braun figure repeatedly.
As for the book’s collection itself, I think it’s really well curated. Especially in the “Petit légendaire alsacien” chapter which has a whole slew of bite-sized tales that paint a fantastic magical realism picture, from the countryside to the city streets. I think it has something for everyone and something for everywhere.
So, here is the table of contents and the bibliography. Go ahead and skip over them if you don’t speak French or German. 😉
Table of Contents.
- Une nuit dans les bois, conte-préface de Erckmann-Chatrian. (“A Night in the Woods,” a folktale preface from author-duo Erckmann-Chatrian.)
- La légende de Saint Materne qui a évangélisé l’Alsace, Auguste Stoeber.
- Sainte Attala, Auguste Stoeber
- Sainte Richarde qui a ressuscité un petit ours, Auguste Stoeber
- Comment le château de Scharrachbergheim est tombé en ruine, Jean Variot
- La chasse maudite, Charles Grad
- Le guerrier dormant, Abbé Charles Braun
- La légende du Vergiss-Mein-Nicht, Prosper Baur
- Thibaut le jongleur, Charles Grandmougin
- Traditions sur la fondation et la construction de la Cathédrale de Strasbourg (récits rapportés par Auguste Stoeber), Louis Schneegans 1850
- La légende de l’horloge, Prosper Baur
- L’invention de l’imprimerie, Livret de colportage, 1838
- La comète, Erckmann-Chatrian
- Le miracle des flagellants, Auguste Stoeber
- Petit légendaire alsacien, Auguste Stoeber
- Le garçon meunier changé en âne, Jean Variot
- Le pont des fées, Marie Strahl
- Les elfs, Abbé Charles Braun
- Les nains de la gorge-aux-loups, Auguste Stoeber
- Les spectres, Abbé Charles Braun
- Le schaefferthal et Saint-Gangolf, Abbé Charles Braun
- Les tziganes, Auguste Stoeber
- Le tisserand de la Steinbach, Erckmann-Chatrian
- La légende du bailli, Prosper Baur
- La légende de Hans-Trapp, Prosper Baur
- La légende de Till, Prosper Baur
- La légende de la noble dame de Zornberg, Prosper Baur
- Sorcellerie d’autrefois, Claude Seignonlle
- Un beau chapelet de malédictions, Auguste Stoeber
- Prosper Baur : Légendes et Souvenirs d’Alsace, Paris, Dentu. 1881.
- Abbé Charles Braun : Légendes du Florival ou la Mythologie allemande dans une vallée d’Alsace, Guebwiller, J. B. Yung 1866.
- Erckmann-Chatrian : Contes des bords du Rhin.
- Abbé Hunckler : Histoire des Saints d’Alsace, Strasbourg, Levrault, 1832.
- Auguste Stoeber : Die Sagen des Elsasses nach Volksuberlieferung, gedruckten und handschriftlichen Quellen gesammelt und erlautert, mit einer Sagenkarte. Saint Gallen, 1852.
- Jean Variot: Légendes et Traditions orales de l’Alsace, Paris, Georges Crès, éditeur, 1920.
- Claude Seignolle: Les Evangiles du Diable. Maisonneuve, Paris, 1963.
- Revue Alsacienne (1877-1890).
- Revue d’Alsace (Colmar), 1ere année : 1830 ; 2e année : 1851.
- Revue des Traditions populaires (Paris), 1902.
The second book I’m discussing today has pictures! Some in color, some in ink. I really like it because the folklorist not only tells the tale, provides illustrations, but as you can see on the right next to the key icon, there’s even commentary on the tale’s themes, cultural trends, etc.
“The Haunted Coach of Rosheim”:
This is one of the folktales that inspired my retelling short story “What She Saw by Lantern Light.” In the original tale, it’s a young, newly-married woman who makes the overnight trek from Rosheim to Strasbourg to be there for the early morning market and encounters the flying diligence coach, as you can see in the illustration.
In my retelling “What She Saw by Lantern Light,” I changed the protagonist to be a younger girl trying to support her family and I also added a few other inspirations into the mix to make it my own, which I’ve discussed previously.
The retelling appeared in Kate Wolford’s Frozen Fairy Tales, and I suppose it’s been out long enough I can spoil it, haha.
“What She Saw by Lantern Light”is available at various retailers.
In any case, I mentioned earlier that I look for repeating themes when I translate. Location is another. Certain locations in Alsace tend to collect stories. One of these is Nideck–the Nideck castle, Nideck waterfall. There are many tales of the giants who lived at Nideck, and about the nymph who lives at the falls. Wangenbourg castle, which isn’t far from Nideck, is another with several tales to its name. Hohenstein castle is another.
To demonstrate, I translated “La dame blanche du Hohenstein” from this collection. Not only does it take place at a folktale hot-spot, but it also features a White Lady, a common creature in French folklore. In the tales I’ve encountered, she often bears a key, and…well, you’ll see. This is from page 35.
“The White Lady of Hohenstein”
Numerous people out walking at the approach of evening have seen a lady, dressed all in white, haunting the Hohenstein castle ruins. She sits at the top of a boulder, so close to the sheer drop that she seems to want to cast herself from its height. She extends her hands beseechingly to every passerby and utters little moans and cries of despair.
One day, a very long time ago, a reckless–albeit dependable–man who lived in the area was passing nearby when he saw the white lady. Believing it was only a tourist who had lost her way and could not manage to climb down from her difficult position, he scaled the rock to help her. He was just about to take hold of her when the lady handed him a key, begging him to find in the ruins of the old fortress a strongbox:
“You will see a monster crouched atop the coffer, but do not be afraid; it will flee as soon as you insert the key into the lock. You will open the coffer and find a treasure. Take as many gold pieces as you can carry, for they will be yours; but above all, do not forget to return to me the key I have just given you.”
Somewhat surprised, our exuberant fellow set out on his search for the coffer which he did indeed discover. On the lid sat a horrible monster, just as she had said. But, courageous, the traveler inserted the key and the beast vanished into thin air as soon as the lid opened, revealing marvels, gold, and precious stones within. Eager, he stuffed as much as he could into his pockets, even clutching so much in his hands that he could no longer retrieve the key for fear of dropping a single coin. Carrying his treasure, he returned to the white lady who, at his approach, uttered a cry of despair. The key, her salvation, was missing! In an instant the riches taken from the coffer transformed into a fistful of dust that the wind swept from his hands. Desire had once again triumphed over vows.
And so, the white lady still awaits a being of exceptional quality who will not forget their promise or sell it for a little gold!
I really enjoyed this collection. There are shape-shifting rabbits, men with wolfish eyes and wolves with human eyes, scarab beetles that might be gold, a wicked black stallion who keeps a lady captive, a man on fire, a pet dragon, cow-ammunition à la Monty Python, and last but not least, two white cat mages:
Hold onto these two. You might see them again later 😉
Table of Contents. (Note, not all accents included, for speed of my typing).
- Un voyage à travers un pays mystérieux
- La diligence hantée de Rosheim
- Le <<Kindelbronne>> de Rosheim
- La Vierge miraculeuse de Rosenwiller
- La nuit du jugement au Guirbaden
- La trahison du seigneur de Hohenstein
- Le blé et la vache
- Le diable et saint Valentin
- Le roi des nains
- La tombe du géant d’Altorf
- Le pont des fées
- Comment se protéger des mauvais sorts
- Sorcières et esprits frappeurs à Oberhaslach
- Le premier miracle de saint Florent
- Les scarabées d’or de la ruine du Hohenstein
- Clauss, le chercheur de trésors
- La fille du géant au château du Nideck
- La naissance de la cascade du Nideck
- L’ondine de la cascade
- Le crime du chevalier Rodolphe
- La dame blanche du <<Urstein>>
- Comment reconnaitre une sorcière ?
- Deux sources miraculeuses : Soultz et Avolsheim
- Le Christ et saint Pierre à Wolxheim
- Le dragon terrassé par saint Denis
- L’origine du nom d’Irmstett
- Les couvents engloutis
- Le fantome de Dangolsheim
- L’homme de feu de Balbronn
- Le fantôme du Ochsenlaeger
- Le squelette de Charles le Téméraire
- Les animaux fabuleux de la Mossig
- Le monstre puni
- Le dragon du << Scharrach >>
- La horde sauvage
- Le puits de sainte Anne
- Les chasseurs de lune à Wangen
- Les souris et les chats blancs de Wangen
- Noel et quelques coutumes oubliées
- Le voleur de la Vierge du << Marlenberg >>
- Le loup du << Kronthal >>
- Le spectre de Wasselonne
- Le fantôme du << Schneeberg >>
- Le << Goldbrunnen >>
- La fileuse Berchta
- Le fantôme du << Brotsch >>
- Anderhalt Joseph : << Die Nixe vom Nidecker-Wasserfall >>, in Neuer Elsasser Kalender, 1938, p. 52.
- Bergmann : << Elsasser Sagen >>, in Jahrbuch fur Geschichte, Sprache und Litteratur in Elsass-Lothringen (Vogesen-Club), 1980.
- Dorny André : << Légendes d’Alsace >>.
- Enderlin Hans : <<Burg Nideck und die Sage >>, in Neuer Elsasser Kalender, 1921, p. 51.
- Fuchs Albert : << War Wotan ein obergermanischer Gott und im Elsass bekannt ?>>, in Elsassische Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Volkskunde, 1921, p. 423 et 547. Du même : << Die Nidecksage >> (das Riesenspielzeug), dans même titre que précédemment, année 1912, p. 34 à 48.
- Klingelé Otto Heinrich : << S’Wuedis-Herr >>, Die Sage vom Wilden Heer, 1985.
- Lefftz Joseph : <<Die wilden Leute im Elsass >> dans la même publication, année 1935, p. 7 à 12.
- Menges Heinrich : << 100 Sagen und Geschichten aus Elsass-Lothringen >>, 1911.
- Mentz F. : << War Wotan im Elsass bekannt ? >>, in Elsassische Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Volkskunde, 1911, p. 546.
- Muhl Gustav : << … ein Hinblick auf die Scharrachbergheimer Johanneskirche >>, in Alsatia 1852, p. 180.
- Muntzer Désiré : << Elsassisches >>, Le même pour << Die Geisterkutsche >>, même titre, année 1854/55, Sagenbuch, 1910, p. 213.
- Otte Friedrich : << Elsassisches Samtagblatt >>, 1856-1858.
- Schaeffer F. A.: <<Der Feengarten auf dem Langenberg >>, in Elsassland, 1923, p. 83-85. Du même : <<Die Riesensagen im Elsass >>, même titre, année 1924, p. 92-93.
- Specklin R. : << Une carte des légendes d’Alsace >>, in Revue d’Alsace 1954, p. 141.
- Stintzi Paul : <<Die Sagen des Elsasses >>, Colmar 1930, 3 volumes.
- Stoeber Auguste: << Die Sagen des Elsasses >>, Sankt-Gallen, 1852. Du même, dans la revue Alsatia, Jahrbuch fur elsassische Geschichte, Sage, Altertumskunde, Sitte, Sprache und Kunst, 1851-1876. Egalement : << Die Hexenprozesse im Elsass >>, 1857 et << Zur Geschichte des Volkes Aberglaubens im Anfange des 16. Jahrhunderts am Geiler von Kayserberg Emeis >>, 1856.
- Tuefferd E. et Ganier H. : << Récits et légendes d’Alsace >>, 1884.
- Variot Jean : << Légendes et traditions orales d’Alsace >>, Paris, 1919.
Just skimming through that, even for the non-initiate it should be farely obvious that this region–situated right on the border of France and Germany and contested between the two throughout all of time–has resources in both French and German. It would be really cool to pair up with a German literary translator sometime and do a collection of folklore and fairy tales from this region.