National Geographic : 2017 Dec
THE SMITH AND THE DEVIL Originated 6,000 years ago A blacksmith trades his soul to the devil for the power to weld any materials together. With his wish granted, the man traps the devil, sticking him to the ground until the evil spirit releases him from the bargain. THE ANIMAL BRIDEGROOM 3,000 years ago Picking a rose lands a father in debt to a beast. In exchange for his freedom, his daughter is taken prisoner. After falling in love with the beast, she must overcome a curse to transform him into a prince. A BOY STEALS THE OGRE’S TREASURE 4,500 years ago A boy trespasses into a giant’s house to steal his treasure. When the giant comes home, the boy hides and then manag- es to evade the giant’s pursuit. Finally the boy kills the giant and takes his treasure. EXPLORE TRADITIONS How does the same story come to be known as “Beauty and the Beast” in the U.S. and “The Fairy Serpent” in China? As Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm collect- ed Germanic folktales in the 19th century, they realized that many were similar to stories told in distant parts of the world. The brothers Grimm wondered wheth- er plot similarities indicated a shared ancestry thousands of years old. Folktales are passed down orally, TALES AS OLD AS TIME By Nina Strochlic obscuring their age and origin. “There’s no fossil record [of them] before the in- vention of writing,” says Jamie Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University. To test the Grimms’ theory, Tehrani and literary scholar Sara Graça da Silva traced 76 basic plots back to their oldest linguistic ancestor using an international folktale database. If a similar tale was told in German and Hindi, the researchers concluded its roots lay in the languag- es’ last common ancestor. “The Smith and the Devil,” a story about a man who trades his soul for blacksmith skills, was first told some 6,000 years ago in Proto- Indo-European. Now we tell a similar tale about the blues guitarist Robert Johnson.