Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, , at sacred-texts.com
An absolutely unique story or incident is a very rare find in folklore. A few stories in the present collection I have not been able to match, e.g. 'The Three Princesses and the Unclean Spirit' (No. 10), 'The Red King and the Witch' (14), 'The Prince and the Wizard' (15), 'Pretty-face' (29), 'A Girl who was sold to the Devil' (46), and 'The Black Dog of the Wild Forest' (72). Then as to incidents, I have met with no non-Gypsy parallel to the somersault that in Gypsy stories almost invariably precedes a transformation (cf. footnote 2 on p. 16). I have met with none to the striking ordeal in 'Mare's Son' (No. 20):--
'He went to his brothers. "Good-day to you, brothers. You fancied I should perish. If you acted fairly by me, toss your arrows up in the air, and they will fall before you; but if unfairly, then they will fall on your heads." All four tossed up their arrows, and they stood in a row. His fell right before him, and theirs fell on their heads, and they died.'
'The Seer' (No. 23) offers a variant:
'And he said, "Good-day to you, brothers. You fancied I had perished. You have pronounced your own doom. Come out with me, and toss your swords up in the air. If you acted fairly by me, it will fall before you; but if unfairly, it will fall on your head." The three of them tossed up their swords, and that of the youngest fell before him, but theirs fell on their head, and they died.'
Then there is the fine conception, of frequent occurrence in Wlislocki's Transylvanian-Gypsy stories, that the sun in the morning sets forth as a little child, by noon has grown to a man, and comes home at eventide weary, old, and grey. 1 And this again, from 'The Hen that laid Diamonds' (No. 25)--
The emperor there was dead, and they took his crown and put it in the church; whosever head the crown falls on, he shall be emperor. And men of all ranks came into the church; and the three boys came. And the eldest went before, and slipped into the church; and the crown floated on to his head. "We have a new emperor." They raised him shoulder-high, and clad him in royal robes.'
The episode is reminiscent of 'Excalibur' in the old Arthurian legend. The story in which it occurs is identical with Hahn's No. 36, but there the episode is wholly wanting. The multiplication of such seemingly unique Gypsy stories and incidents would certainly favour a belief in the originality of the Gypsies, would suggest that
some at least of their stories are at first-hand, and not derived from Greeks, Roumans, Slavs, Teutons, or Celts.
Still, nothing would surprise me less than to come on non-Gypsy versions of one or all of these stories or incidents. The great mass of the collection can be paralleled from Grimm, Asbjörnsen, Hahn, Campbell, Cosquin, etc. Thus my No. 63 is Grimm's 'Our Lady's Child' (No. 3); No. 57 his 'Youth who went forth to learn what Fear was' (No. 4); No. 2 his 'Faithful John' (No. 6); No. 21 his 'Valiant Little Tailor' (No. 20); No. 38 his 'Devil with the Three Golden Hairs' (No. 29); No. 47 his 'Robber Bridegroom' (No. 40); No. 70 his 'Frederick and Catherine' (No. 59); No. 25 his 'Two Brothers' (No. 60); No. 68 his 'Little Peasant' (No. 61); No. 59 his 'Brother Lustig' (No. 81) and 'Old Man made Young again' (No. 147); No. 32 his 'King of the Golden Mountains' (No. 92); No. 17 his 'Three Little Birds' (No. 96); Nos. 55 and 73 his 'Water of Life' (No. 97); No. 43 his 'Skilful Huntsman' (No. 111); No. 25 his 'Ferdinand the Faithful' (No. 126); No. 41 his 'Shoes that were danced to Pieces' (No. 133); Nos. 20 and 58 his 'Strong Hans' (No. 166); and Nos. 11 and 12 his 'Master Thief' (No. 192); besides which his 'Cinderella' (No. 21), 'Godfather Death' (No. 44), and 'The Sole' (No. 172) are known to be current among the Gypsies. The Gypsies, then, by the showing even of our present meagre store of Gypsy folk-tales, have over ten per cent. of Grimm's entire collection.
Which are the better, the Gypsy versions, or the non-Gypsy versions, can only be definitely determined when we can feel pretty sure of possessing the best Gypsy versions procurable. Take, for example, our story of 'The Vampire' (No. 5). The wretched Hungarian-Gypsy version of Dr. Friedrich Miller (1869) could not for a moment compare with Ralston's fine Russian story of 'The Fiend,' but the Roumanian-Gypsy version of Barbu Constantinescu (1878) quite well can. The standard of Gypsy folk-tales should clearly be taken from the best, not the poorest, specimens; and the standard by that rule is high. Indeed, 'The Red King and the Witch' to me appears as good as anything in the whole field of folk-lore; and 'Ashypelt,' 'The Jealous Husband,' and half a dozen more of my collection seem only less good than it. But, of course, one's own geese are all swans.
lxv:1 Not unique; occurs also in Wratislaw's Bohemian story, No. 2, p. 21. But I let the lines stand for a warning against the vanity of dogmatising.