I receive occasional emails about the ATU system of folktale typing. I am far from an expert although I know how to use the system for research. I have a black belt in that small part of it. I hate typing tales on my own, because it is rarely a slam dunk decision.
Tale typing is helpful for finding similar tales but there is very much an art and science to tale typing, one that can be intimidating when tales fail to meet the criteria comfortably or sufficiently. And what about when the groom is not an animal? But everything else fits the type criteria? I'll be sharing more of those soon when I begin sharing individual tales. But let's start at the beginning today's post. Since I decided to include tales from ATU 425-449, I ended up dealing with over 40 tale types for this book, including all of the subtypes and previous iterations of the system. I had only dealt with up to six or seven previously for Cinderella Tales From Around the World. Child's play and I didn't even know it then.
From my introduction to Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World:
In 1910, Antti Aarne created a system to classify types of Scandinavian folktales and published it with the title, Verzeichnis der Märchentypen (Index of Folktale Types). Stith Thompson later adapted the system in 1928 and again in 1961 with the title, The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography. Although other folklore classification systems exist, this system has become the most widely used in folklore scholarship despite its flaws, especially its European-centric limitations. Tale types are designated in this system with the AT designation followed by a classification number, such as AT 425.
In 2004, Hans-Jörg Uther further revised the system, both streamlining and expanding it, with the publication of The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography. The system has been adopted in current scholarship and now most tale typing includes the ATU designation to denote usage of the updated tale types. The system groups Animal Husband tales—including Beauty and the Beast—in a range of types: 425-449. The ATU index and bibliography is not limited to English language versions—they are in the minority in the bibliography—so the index is a critical tool for anyone searching for a large listing of Animal Bridegroom variants. The Animal Bridegroom listings are far from comprehensive and further direct the researcher to external sources, such as the work of Jan Öjvind Swahn.
In his book, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche (1955), Swahn compiled a list and studied over 1,100 Animal Bridegroom tales. Concentrating on AT 425: The Search for the Lost Husband—which includes Cupid and Psyche as well as Beauty and the Beast—Swahn subdivided the tales into seven sections and provided a list of motifs for each section of the tale. The seven sections include: I. Introductory Motifs, II. The Supernatural Husband, III. The Marriage, IV. The Breaking of the Taboo, V. The Search for the Husband, VI. The Reunion, and VII. Final Motifs.
Swahn determined the sixth section, The Reunion, to have the most variety across all AT 425 tales and so he divided it into fifteen subtypes, designated with the letters A-O—except for I—and the letter X for indeterminate. Discussing each of these subtypes in detail is not the goal of this introduction, but a chart has been provided in the appendix to help readers learn more about each by referencing representative tales in this collection.
Swahn’s work, in turn, influenced Thompson’s revisions in The Types of the Folktale in 1961. Some of the classifications chosen by Swahn and adopted by Thompson were very narrow, containing a low number of tales limited to a small geographical area. During his revisions in 2004, Uther folded several of these back into the larger type classes, primarily ATU 425A and 425B, making the system more functional but less refined for studying this specific tale type.
I mention the chart from the back of my book--it was one of the greatest challenges of the book. Tale typing Animal Bridegroom tales is a brainteaser--I think this book staved off Alzheimer's for at least five extra years of my life--and then there have been significant changes to the system over the years, too. Whenever a tale in the collection fit in one of the old tale types--say an AT 425L The Padlock on the Enchanted Husband which is now folded into ATU 425E The Enchanted Husband Sings Lullaby--I chose the older, more precise type with a reference to the new type. With most of these, I only have 1-3 representative tales, mostly because there are so few to begin with. They were steamlined for good reasons.
And then there is all the confusion over the two largest types, ATU 425A and ATU 425B. But that will be tomorrow's discussion. This post is long enough!