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Charles Godfrey Leland and His Magical Tales

Edited by Jack Zipes

Folklore, American History, Fairy-Tale Studies

The Donald Haase Series in Fairy-Tale Studies

Printed Paper Cased
Published: September 2020
ISBN: 9780814347867
Pages: 202 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 2 black-and-white illustrations
Published: September 2020
ISBN: 9780814347850
Pages: 202 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 2 black-and-white illustrations
Published: September 2020
ISBN: 9780814347874

Born into a wealthy and privileged family in Philadelphia, Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903) showed a clear interest in the supernatural and occult literature during his youth. Legend has it that, soon after his birth, an old Dutch nurse carried him up to the garret of the house and performed a ritual to guarantee that Leland would be fortunate in his life and eventually become a scholar and a wizard. Whether or not this incident ever occurred, we do know that his interest in fairy tales, folklore, and the supernatural would eventually lead him to a life of travel and documentation of the stories of numerous groups across the United States and Europe.

Jack Zipes selected the tales in Charles Godfrey Leland and His Magical Talesfrom five different books— The Algonquin Legends (1884), Legends of Florence (1895–96), The Unpublished Letters of Virgil (1901), The English Gypsies (1882), and Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune-Telling (1891)—and has arranged them thematically. Though these tales cannot be considered authentic folk tales—not written verbatim from the lips of Romani, Native Americans, or other sources of the tales—they are highly significant because of their historical and cultural value. Like most of the aspiring American folklorists of his time, who were mainly all white, male, and from the middle classes, Leland recorded these tales in personal encounters with his informants or collected them from friends and acquaintances, before grooming them for publication so that they became translations of the original narratives. What distinguishes Leland from the major folklorists of the nineteenth century is his literary embellishment to represent his particular regard for their poetry, purity, and history. Readers with an interest in folklore, oral tradition, and nineteenth-century literature will value this curated and annotated glimpse into a breadth of work.

Jack Zipes is professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. His most recent books include The Giant Ohl and Tiny Tim, Fearless Ivan and His Faithful Horse Double-Hump, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Tales of Wonder, and Johnny Breadless: A Pacifist Fairy Tale.

With Charles Godfrey Leland and His Magical Tales, Jack Zipes brings attention to the too often neglected work of a nineteenth- and early twentieth-century amateur and intellectual omnivore. Leland was an amateur because he was not employed as an academic and also because (like Zipes himself) he was driven by a love of the subjects he researched. This anthology gathers a selection of great potential interest to historians and anthropologists as well as to fairy-tale scholars.

– Pauline Greenhill, professor of women’s and gender studies, University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Reading Charles Godfrey Leland and His Magical Tales is quite a trip! Meet a cannibal Chenoo transformed into family by a woman’s kindness, the Cinderella-like bride of the Invisible One, a virtuous woman turned into a fly with silver wings, a fairy walking the streets of Florence in the shape of a girl, Virgil and Merlin—both great wizards, more than one magic key, and many ‘false truths and true lies.’ Whether retelling Native American, Italian, or Romani tales, Leland creates vivid mini-worlds ruled by transformation, the wheels of fortune, and magic. As editor, Jack Zipes does not attempt to rein in Leland’s imagination. Instead, he cautions us to recognize his appropriative lens as ‘amateur folklorist’ and invites us to appreciate his gusto for storytelling.

– Cristina Bacchilega, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

The best fairy tales of Charles Godfrey Leland are gathered here, subtly burnished by Jack Zipes. Algonquin tales of magic include a fascinating Micmac variant of Cinderella; in stories of an enchanted Italy a girl may be transformed into a cow or a fly, and Virgil stars as a mighty sorcerer.

– Neil Philip, author of The Penguin Book of English Folktales

Charles Godfrey Leland remains one of the most brilliant and unjustly neglected nineteenth-century American folklorists. His extraordinary range was unified by a passionate commitment to natural wisdom—from Canadian Algonquins to English Romani to the surviving traditions of Tuscan witchcraft. This stunning collection brings to light a forgotten monument of folkloric literature.

– Joseph Sobol, director, George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, University of South Wales

Not only are they enjoyable to read, but they also will no doubt serve as launching points for a deeper dive into the fairy-tale works of both Laboulaye and Leland.

– Hannah Mummert, Marvels & Tales