3: Excerpt, the Brothers Grimm, “The King of the Golden Mountain,” ca. 1812-1858, trans. Margaret Hunt, 1884.
Reb Nakhman’s stories are supernatural tales that depict an enchanted world of talking animals, personified natural forces, and daring feats of escape and rescue. Today we would call these fairy tales, and perhaps consider them mostly suitable for children, but two hundred years ago they were considered not only works of literature for all ages, but also the keys to unlock a culture. In this respect, one should note that Reb Nakhman was telling his stories around the same time that the Brothers Grimm were collecting stories from their neighbors in German-speaking lands. Nakhman’s stories share certain features with the Grimm tales. Subsequent scholars of folklore, in particular the Russian theorist Vladimir Propp, working about a century after Reb Nakhman and the Brothers Grimm, have argued that every fairy tale shares features with every other fairy tale, regardless of its place of origin.
Suggested Activity: Ask students to consider the similarities between Reb Nakhman’s stories and other fairy tales they are familiar with, both in their oral versions and in cinematic adaptations, such as Disney’s Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, etc. How does “The Loss of the Princess” compare with these? Do you notice any similarities between “The Loss of the Princess” and contemporary fantasy genres like science fiction, anime, and comic books? Is it possible to imagine how Reb Nakhman’s story could be filmed as a Pixar movie? Or to imagine how a contemporary film could be retold in the style of Reb Nakhman’s stories? Conversely, are there any elements in Nakhman’s story that you believe could only be found in a Jewish folk tale?
Now have students read the excerpt from “The King of the Golden Mountain.” Ask them whether they notice any characters, elements, or settings that this story shares with “The Loss of the Princess.” You may wish to draw their attention to the following parts of Reb Nakhman’s story: the trapped princess asking the Viceroy for rescue, the princess’s captivity in an enchanted castle on a golden mountain, the princess tasking the Viceroy with a feat of endurance in order to break the curse and free her. Ask students: Do you think Reb Nakhman and the Brothers Grimm had completely independent sources for their stories? Or is it possible that these stories derived from closely related oral traditions? If Reb Nakhman was simply adapting an existing European folk tale (or combination of tales), does that in any way decrease or change its value as a Jewish spiritual text?
Source: Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, “The King of the Golden Mountain,” in Grimm’s Household Tales, Volume 2, trans. Margaret Hunt (London: George Bell and Sons, 1884), 30-31, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Grimm%27s_Household_Tales,_Volume_2/The_King_of_the_Golden_Mountain.