Beyond the Grimms: 15 Books to Get You Started

June 16, 2020

In the US (and many places beyond), if you say the words “fairy tales,” most people think “Disney.” Or maybe, the Grimms or Perrault. And don’t get us wrong, we are HERE for those things. We’ve had “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana stuck in our heads since 2016. And we both have multiple versions and editions of the Grimms’ fairy tales on our shelves.

But there’s SO much more to fairy tales and folklore beyond this!

In the last few weeks, we’ve had at least four separate requests for story collections and resources beyond the usual suspects. When that happens, we know it’s time for a blog post.

We mined our bookshelves and the archives of the Journal of Folklore Research to bring you a huge variety of collections from all over the world. And we’ve included snippets from some of the reviews to give you a sense of what to expect.

If you’re on the hunt for folklore from a region not listed on this page (and again, this is just a sample of what’s out there!), you can search JFRR’s archives, too!

Without further ado, behold: 15 folklore books that will take you around the world and give you a small taste of what’s out there!


“That’s What They Used to Say”: Reflections on American Indian Oral Traditions by Donald L. Fixico (2017)

“Writing on oral traditions is always a challenge, even more so in a way that can convey the specific quality of Native oral traditions. Donald L. Fixico produces in “That’s What They Used to Say”: Reflections on American Oral Traditions an audacious emulation of practices that have sometimes lost the savor of their oral quality in the writing process. For Fixico, stories are powerful, and provided a good teller and a good listener the spiritual energy that circulates in the Indian household when an elder’s reminiscences can be felt through reading.” – Reviewed by Thierry Veyrié.

Read more here:


Aboriginal Folk Tales of Taiwan: Animals, Heroes, and Heroic Adventures by Charles P. Beaupre (2007)

“Dr. Charles P. Beaupre is associate professor of Modern Languages and Asian Studies at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from McGill University. He thanks “many individuals of the aboriginal community in Taiwan” and notes that through “countless interviews and exchanges, I was able to gather much useful data on a vast array of themes and ideas pertaining to aboriginal folk tales.” Beaupre cites collections of aboriginal tales by Fafa Huoseluman (1997), Lin Chun-Yi (2001, 2001), and Lin Sheng-Xian (1999) published by Zhen Xing press, and a collection by Lin Dao-Sheng (2001) published by Han-Yi Si-Yen press. He also cites two websites as sources for aboriginal tales.

The book includes forty-two tales, including legends from the Tsou, Paiwan, Amei, Bunun, Saisha, Tao, Lukai, Puyuma, and Atayal. Each tale in the collection is followed by a tribal name and a term such as “Source: Saisha tribal community.” The stories are all told in a similar tone, clearly Beaupre’s voice, and no mention is made of individual tellers interviewed, though it is implied by the introduction that he learned about these stories through numerous interviews with tribal members.” – Reviewed by Margaret Read MacDonald.

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African Tales by Harold Scheub (2005)

“African Tales is a welcome collection of narratives from around the continent that can be profitably assigned for coursework as well as read for personal enjoyment. It consists of forty-six stories, drawn from nearly as many collections of African folklore, and from forty some indigenous societies. The tales are arranged alphabetically by ethnic group, running, logically enough, from Asante (Ghana) to Zulu (South Africa). The volume is prefaced with a brief introduction by the compiler, Harold Scheub: “Story and Storyteller: The Collection of Stories from the Oral Tradition.” – Reviewed by Robert Cancel.

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The Native Greenlander: Folktales of Greenland edited by Heinrich Rink, illustrated by Aron of Kangeq, translated by Susan Stanley (2020)

“The first edition of this fascinating little work appeared in 1859 in Nuuk, Greenland. Entitled Kaladlit Okalluktualliait, it was the first book printed in Greenland, accomplished on a hand press, and featured traditional narratives gathered in the Kalaallisut language from native Greenlanders, along with illustrations made by a native artist. The stories were collected by the Danish administrator and scholar, Heinrich Rink (1819-1893), and the accompanying woodcuts were created by the seal-hunter and walrus-hunter, Aron of Kangeq (1822-1869). Subsequently Rink’s book was translated into Danish, and now, thanks to the IPI (International Polar Institute) Press, we have an English translation based upon that edition.” –Reviewed by William Hansen.

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The Folklore of Cornwall: The Oral Tradition of a Celtic Nation by Ronald M. James (2018)

“In The Folklore of Cornwall: The Oral Tradition of a Celtic Nation, Ronald M. James carefully presents several genres (legend, folktale, belief) of nineteenth-century Cornish folklore, with a focus on supernatural beings living on the land (piskies), in the sea (mermaids), and underground (knockers), as well as spectres and giants. This is not an anthology of stories; James rarely provides a complete legend text, but rather summarizes it with occasional quotes from his sources. Instead, James uses a selection of previously published materials to investigate what makes the folklore of Cornwall distinctly Cornish, and to place it in relation to other Celtic and European folklore, with particular attention to any distinctions from English folklore.” – Reviewed by Elissa R. Henken.

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Japanese Tales of Lafcadio Hearn by Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Andrei Codrescu (2019)

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn (2019)

Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Paul Murray (2019)

“Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) commands several titles in the history of letters. W.K. McNeil (1978) identified him clearly as a folklorist while I pointed out his claim as an ethnographer (Bronner 2002). Others have referred to him as a literary journalist, literary critic, essayist, novelist, as well as an ethnographer. He is best remembered today for observations after 1890 of Japanese culture and character in a transitional time between the exclusion of foreign influence in pre-Meiji traditional culture and the opening up to the West with the emperor’s declared goal of modernization after the 1870s. Many readers have assumed that his attraction to folklore derived from being exposed to Japanese narrative traditions and his connection to his wife Koizumi Setsu. Indeed, many Japanese schoolchildren read his renditions of Japanese folklore to this day under the name of Koizumi Yakumo. The Japanese government designated his former home in Matsue, in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan, a historic site in 1940, and a Japanese movie based on his book Kwaidan kept his legacy before a mass audience. Yet Hearn’s fascination with folklore, particularly supernatural beliefs and ghost legends, was evident well before, and appears heavily influenced by stories of goblins in his Irish childhood and the Creole culture of New Orleans in which he actively “collected” and interpreted. That is not to say that folklorists have embraced his contributions, probably because of his defiance of literary, folkloristic, and social conventions. He was the classic outsider: born in the Ionian Islands in present-day Greece, relocated to Ireland, educated in France, and then shipped off to the United States, before embarking for Japan.” – Reviewed by Simon Bronner.

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Inari Sami Folklore: Stories from Aanaar by August V. Koskimies and Toivo I. Itkonen, translated by Tim Frandy, edited by Tim Frandy (2019)

“This anthology has an interesting history. It was first published in 1917 in the Inari Sámi and Finnish languages and, in 1978, a second, revised edition was issued. Now Tim Frandy, assistant professor of Folk Studies at Western Kentucky University, and himself a member of the Sámi American community, has translated this collection of stories, legends, songs, and other examples of Sámi oral tradition in an English language edition. While Frandy admits there are numerous inherent difficulties in translating words and concepts so specific to the Sámi culture, publication in English has certainly opened this collection to a much wider audience.” – Reviewed by Pamela Dearinger.

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The Flood Myths of Early China by Mark Edward Lewis (2006)

“Flood myths, explaining natural cosmic disasters and the re-creation of the world and human beings, commonly exist in many cultures as well as in China. The origin and transformation of flood myths reflect the conditions of early human life, cosmology, and the creation of human civilizations. The rich messages conveyed by flood myths have provoked many scholars to pursue them. Mark Edward Lewis’s recent book, The Flood Myths of Early China, is a new contribution to the study of this topic. The book provides readers with useful references for understanding the Chinese flood myths as well as early Chinese society.

The Flood Myths of Early China is distinctive in being the first English-language, Western monograph providing a comprehensive study of Han flood myths. In this study, the author collects and uses the rich resources of ancient texts and archeological findings. Through unique treatment of these resources, the author presents new insights for interpreting Han flood myths.” – Reviewed by Xiaohong Chen.

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Handbook of Chinese Mythology by Lihui Yang and Deming An, with Jessica Anderson Turner (2005)

“What is a myth? How do Chinese people and Chinese mythologists perceive Chinese myths? How were myths used and reconstructed as an important cultural resource to serve people’s current interests? In The Handbook of Chinese Mythology, Yang Lihui, a Chinese folklorist who has conducted fieldwork and other research on Nüwa myth, and An Deming, a folklorist who has conducted fieldwork on living myths in villages in northwest China, go beyond trying to answer these questions. In addition, Yang and An do an impressive job of reintroducing to English-language readers Chinese myths that may have already appeared in Western scholarship.” – Reviewed by Lanlan Kuang.

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Indian Folktales from Mauritius translated by Dawood Auleear and Lee Haring, edited by Dawood Auleear and Lee Haring (2006)

“This collection of folktales from Mauritius by Dawood Auleear and Lee Haring, with its focus upon narratives that have been brought from one country to another and that cut across geography, language, and time, reminds one of the old theory of the migration of folktales from India to Europe.

The compilation is drawn from the migrant people of Bhojpur in the Bihar province of India, who in 1833 revolted against British rule in India and were shipped out to the southwest Indian Ocean island of Mauritius as indentured laborers. The Bhojpuri people became the major force in the shaping of the culture of Mauritius, numbering as they do 250,000 persons and so constituting a fifth of the total population of the country. Knowledgeable and powerful peoples with exploitative worldviews tend to impose their culture on the land they rule, but the Bhojpuri people in Mauritius have reversed the top-down approach of enculturation, maintaining their ethnic identity and group solidarity by establishing instead a culture of their own in their adoptive land.” – Reviewed by Mahendra K. Mishra.

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Korean Myths and Folk Legends by Pae-gang Hwang, translated by Young-Hie Han, Se-Chung Kim and Seung-Pyong Chwae (2006)

“The current volume is a translation of Hwang’s well-known compendium, Han’guk ?i sinhwa, first published in 1973 as the fourth of five volumes in a series of world myths and reprinted in 1988. Hwang’s original volume was one of several from the 1970s that attempted to make Korean mythology accessible to a wider Korean-speaking audience. The work has been previously translated into Spanish, and the current English translation was initiated by Stephen J. Reno, who provides a very brief foreword to the volume. For this translation, Hwang relied on numerous translators and, if the opening note of Young-Hie Han, the translator-editor of the volume, is any indication, the task was an arduous one. The difficulty of translating these myths is not surprising, since the majority of them are based on complex reworkings of variants culled from a variety of sources, many of those originally written in classical Chinese.” – Reviewed by Timothy R. Tangherlini.

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Folktales of the Jews, Volume 1: Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion edited by Dan Ben-Amos, consulting editor Dov Noy (2006)

“These are the first volumes of a planned multi-volume set of folktales from the Israel Folklore Archives (IFA), founded by Dov Noy in 1955, which now contains more than 23,000 tales collected in Israel from over thirty cultural groups. This huge amount of archive material means that the tales chosen for publication can all be interesting and pleasant to read. It also means that each text can be discussed in relation to similar archived tales in addition to published analogs.

Following a foreword for the whole series, an introduction in each volume covers the history of that cultural group and its folklore as represented in manuscript and printed sources. In the texts, footnotes explain foreign words, literary references, and customs. There is a general subject index at the back, plus tale type and motif indexes. Each volume contains seventy-one tales. The Sephardic tales are grouped into Legends (often a miracle concerning a particular rabbi), Moral Tales, Folktales, and Humorous Tales. The Eastern European divisions are Tales of the Supernatural, Hasidic Tales, Holocaust Tales, Historical Tales, Tales between Jews and Non-Jews, and again, Moral Tales, Folktales, and Humorous Tales.” – Reviewed by Christine Goldberg.

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And finally, though it has not yet been reviewed by JFR, this week we want to highlight The Annotated African American Folktales, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar. This is a truly beautiful book, and we highly recommend it.

The Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar (2017)

“An exhaustive collection for both academic and casual audiences…Gates’ and Tatar’s introductions provide essential critical frameworks for understanding black folk culture’s centrality to wider American culture, while the secondary sources shed light on the various methodologies and philosophies that have informed how scholars gather folklore. An exhaustive, informative, and entertaining survey of African-American folklore, its centrality to American culture, and the universality of myth.” – Kirkus Reviews

Happy reading!

[Special thanks to the Journal of Folklore Research for collecting these reviews and making them available to the public online! It’s a truly wonderful resource.]

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