A special pleasure arises from coming to terms, even if only partially, with the special qualities of each version of a tale within its own context, of fathoming the reasons for the impressive constancy in the basic outlines of many stories across the centuries, and of seeking to account for the equally perplexing variations that can sometimes occur. Abstract arguments can be helpful in disproving the notion that there can be a pure fairy tale form in which no adjustments to immediate cultural needs or pressures have taken place and in which no ulterior motive has prompted the telling and influenced the shaping of the story. But the best support for such reasoning may be to let a variety of tales speak for themselves. They tell us that fairy tales can and should he approached at more than one different angle. They lend weight to the view of the Italian philosopher, historian, and critic Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) that we possess only specific tellings of the tales and that we must analyze these tellings rather than hypothesize about what does not exist. Croce argued strenuously against what he regarded as arbitrary theories about Indian origins, primitive origins, and so forth of fairy tales. In analyzing individual tellings, we need to be as attentive as possible to the particularities of context, since whether a tale is recounted orally or written, it is told by a real person at a particular point in history. These tellers have their own personalities, time periods, sexes, social classes, and multiple communities.
by Jan M. Ziolkowski
From the introduction to Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies, p. 7