IN commenting on the prominent example of the conversion of the old epics into allegories which is supplied by Tennyson's Idylls of the King, whereby the legends 'lose their dream reality without gaining the reality of ordinary life,' Mr. Leslie Stephen remarks that 'as soon as the genuine inhabitants of Fairyland can be interpreted as three virtues or three graces, they cease to fascinate' him. With that confession most people will agree. For alike to those who told the story, and to their hearers, these 'inhabitants of Fairyland' were no buckram-clad personifications of Moralities like the characters in the Mystery Plays of four centuries ago. They were real dwellers in a real Wonderland, whose limits are only those of the broad, deep convert them into vehicles of edification is not merely to empty them of their primitive significance, but to make vain the attempt to understand the conditions which gave birth and long renown to saga and fireside tale. In the dim past when these were woven out of old traditions, no sharp lines severed nature from super-nature; troll and fairy were part of the vagaries which seemed to make up the sum of things at whose core it entered not the mind of man to conceive that unbroken order might be found. Their old mythologies, full of crude and coarse detail, were no fables to the ancient Greeks slowly rising above the barbaric level of ancestors on a plane with the Gold Coast savage who believes his medicine-man when, handing on the traditional cosmogony of the tribe, he tells how the world was made by a big spider. The healthynatured child, who in many things represents the savage stage of thinking, listens without question to the stories of the Giant who hid his heart in a duck's egg on an island out of harm's way, as he vainly hoped; and of Beauty and the Beast, where the princess's curiosity led to the retransformation of the enchanted prince to the shape of loathly monster.
To the secular arm, therefore, be delivered any and every book which, catering for the youngsters, throttles the life of the old folk-tales with coils of explanatory notes, and heaps on their maimed corpses the dead weight of bibliographical appendices. Nevertheless, that which delighted our childhood may instruct our manhood; and notes, appendices, and all the gear of didactic exposition, have their place elsewhere in helping the student, anxious to reach the seed of fact which is covered by the pulp of fiction. For, to effect this is to make approach to man's thoughts and conceptions of himself and his surroundings, to his way of looking at things, and to explanation of his conduct both in work and play. Hence the folk-tale and the game are alike pressed into the service of study of the human mind. Turn where we may, the pastimes of children are seen to mimic the serious pursuits of men. Their dances and romps, their tin soldiers, guns, and trumpets, the dolls and other apparatus of the nursery, and the strategic combats of the playground, have a high antiquity. The game of 'Buck, buck, how many fingers do I hold up?' was played in the streets of Imperial Rome. The ancient Greek 'ostrakinda,' or 'game of the shell,' has its counterpart in one played among the Navajoes of New Mexico. 'Hot cockles' is depicted on Egyptian wall-paintings, and a wooden toy-bird with wheels under its wings, found in the Faym cemetery, is identical with specimens in use among Yakut and Aino children. The players of 'All Round the Mulberry Tree' probably represent a dance of old round a sacred bush; 'Green Gravel' and 'Jenny Jones' are funeral games; 'Forfeits' are relics of divination; and 'Cat's Cradle' belongs to the string puzzles which are played all the world over by savage and civilised.
Whether game and story embody serious elements, or are the outcome of lighter moods, it is this trivial or earnest purpose that we strive to reach. And, notably in the analysis of tales, that effort has been well justified in bringing us, often when least suspected, near some deposit of early thought, near some guesses at a philosophy which embraces all life in a common origin and destiny; and in putting us into touch with instinctive feelings of the Un-cultured mind whose validity has been proved by reason and experience.
A superficial acquaintance with folk-tales reveals the fact that many of them are capable of division into a series of well-marked groups united by a common motif, round which imagination has played, 'truth' being thus 'embodied in a tale.' And the interest in this cardinal feature is the greater if it can be shown to contain some primitive philosophy of things which 'has expressed itself in beliefs that have ruled man's conduct, and in rites and ceremonies which are the 'outward and visible signs' of the beliefs. Several groups answer to this requirement. One of them centres round the tale, referred to above, of 'the Giant who had no Heart in his Body,' variants of which have been found from India to the Highlands, and from the Arctic seaboard to Africa. The fundamental idea in this group is the widespread barbaric belief in the separateness of the soul or heart or strength, or whatever
else is denominated the seat of life, from the body, whose fate is nevertheless bound up with that of the soul. In the Norse example, a princess wooed by a giant wheedles him, in Delilah--like fashion, into making known in what secret place his heart is hidden. lie tells her that it is in an egg in a duck swimming in a well in a church on an island, all which she straightway repeats to her true love who has stolen into the castle to rescue her. With the aid of a number of helpful animals, a common feature of folk-tales, the lover gets the egg, and as he squeezes it the giant bursts to pieces. Fantastic as all this seems, it is only the accretion of varying detail round a serious belief of which living examples are found throughout the world. Obviously that belief lies at the base of the argument by which Herbert Spencer, Tylor, and others of their school show how theories of the soul and future life were elaborated from barbaric conceptions of the 'other self' which quitted the body for a time in sleep and dreams and swoons, leaving it at death to. return no more, although fitfully visiting its old haunts to help or harm the living. But more than bare hint on these matters lies beyond the purpose of this reference, which is designed to make easier the passage to the significance of the central idea of another group of folk-tales, the masterpiece among which gives its title to this volume.