The Girl's Own Book

Folk Tales

olk tales and popular stories had a long history in Britain as well, but there was no scholarly collection until 1890 when folklorist Joseph Jacobs published English Fairy Tales. Many of the familiar stories had been told and retold, illustrated repeatedly, and published many times by then. As with the Continental fairy tales, these stories began as the common property of all ages, but gradually came to be thought of as especially suitable for children and became a mainstay of children’s publishing.  

The first fairy tale printed in English, in 1621, was a version of Tom Thumb. The tiny hero is cooked into a pudding, carried away by a raven, eaten by a fish from which he is saved in the kitchen at the court of King Arthur, becomes a favored courtier, and so on.
Richard Whittington was a real person, whose life as a merchant and tenure as Lord Mayor of London were fictionalized as a story about a poor boy who gained his fortune through the sale of his cat on a distant, rat-infested shore.
The story of Jack the Giant Killer did not emerge until the eighteenth century, when it brought together Arthurian legend, stories about magic, and a host of dangerous giants from Cornish and Welsh folklore.
As is the way of folk tales, the name Jack became associated with giants, and it was a different Jack entirely who climbed the magic beanstalk and heard the dreadful cry “Fee-fi-fofum! I smell the blood of an Englishman.”
Goldilocks and the Three Bears had parallels in folk stories, but first appeared in its modern form in 1837, in a story by Robert Southey, where the intruder was an old, dirty, vagrant woman. Within a decade the crone had been converted to Goldilocks and become part of the popular imagination.

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