I am bringing you a number of remarkable tales. You should not
expect to find these to be stories of the latest fashion, polished
up and modified according to contemporary taste. For as I wandered
out in the fields or sat by the hearth of some farmer's livingroom
on a long winter's eve, I heard a number of these as an honorable
farmer or old matron could tell it to me. Then I noticed that I
grew warm in the bottom of my heart and thought of my childhood,
when my own nurse had recounted similar stories to me; and I felt
that it was well worthwhile to write down what I had now heard,
and to collect others as well.
And after I had collected a good number, it appeared to me that
there lay a deeper meaning in several of the old tales. When I discovered
that learned men in other countries had made collections of similar
material, and that it had been well received, I got the idea, dear
Reader, that I might proffer what I had, hoping that you will accept
my gift with an honest heart and without belittling or despising
beforehand that which is old and simplistic.
You must know as well that I am giving you what I have in exactly
the form I heard it. For it is far from my desire to dare to make
substantial changes or improvements in what I have heard. If it
seems to you that a few of these are of such poor quality that I
should have refrained from making them available, I would answer
that such criticism only concerns me insofar as I am the editor.
If you will look more deeply, you will surely find that there lies
a meaning in what you have read, even if not all of it is of equally
Man is a sensuous creature, and wants to "see for himself,"
as we say. So when, dear Reader, you are appalled to hear how the
young children in my first story are prepared for a horrible death,
but in the end turn the tables on the old troll hag, I would insist
that it is a well-made and meaningful picture that shows how innocence,
in adversity and danger, finally triumphs over evil plans. No other
meaning has ever been placed there by the storyteller, and it is
not his fault if you find something else in his bold, sensual description,
which is precisely depicted in the common man's language.
Phantasia is a strange old fogey, too! Sometimes he sits like an
old man with a daring, open glance, in a little hut in the woods
by the falls, where the wild streams plunge between sharp, fearful
crags; then again, he can often be seen as a lovely winged youth
who flies between the flowers and the stars in the moonlight, or
in the crimson sunlight of the morning or evening. The thoughtful
reader will never fail to gain something by following him, wherever
he chooses to fly.
If you would like to know who they were who have fashioned my stories,
I can tell you that neither you nor I have ever seen a single one
of these poets. But it is reasonable to assume that they have lived
during a time when the art of books was yet unknown. Back in those
days, it must have been a pleasure to be a poet. Then a pure, unaffected
love drew everyone's hearts toward him, so that what he recounted
became the inheritance from father to son through the centuries,
and was retained in memory, echoing through the halls of kings and
the castles of noble knights. But when the art of printing was invented
and the spiritual being of man was given a new direction, these
stories were only preserved in the simple peasant cottage, when
a long winter evening brought the people in around the oven, or
else some happy gathering opened lips and hearts. It is therefore
high time lest these stories be lost altogether; for you had best
believe me, dear Reader, that our present school authority is by
no means favorably disposed to these stories.
Should you, dear Reader, be a man of learning, who takes my gift
in hand in order to separate the individual tales with an jaundiced
glance, or should you wish to have a word with the editor, I would
ask that you treat him with leniency. Whether or not you look upon
his country wares with the same partiality as he, or see them from
a totally different point of view, you should not condemn out of
hand what he has brought to town. He has only collected like an
eager gatherer of flowers, who takes all the blossoms he has found
and orders them in little bunches, so that others can select what
they like best. Even the lowly thistle gives the bee its honey,
though it is often passed by as a poor and insignificant flower
by the colorful butterfly.
Finally, I must tell you, dear Reader, that I have by no means been
alone in the collection of these stories that I now or next year
will be publishing. It is therefore my duty to thank those who have
been kind enough to add to what I have collected. I would first
thank Asst. Librarian J. M. Thiele, that diligent collector, surely
known to you for his lovely folk legends (of which I may also offer
you a bit in the following volumes): next, Mr. Jørgen Grønvald
in Næsbyhovedsby here near Odense, who is an enthusiast for
the fair saga. Next time I hope to give you better stories than
these, and would therefore wish for many others to contribute material,
which will always be accepted with my thanks.
Odense, September 17, 1822.