If you’re as old as I am, Central and Eastern Europe is a pretty vague place because we didn’t learn much about it in school.
I grew up before the fall of the USSR, so I don’t even know the countries of that part of the world that well although I’m getting a bit better, especially after having the opportunity to travel to some of them.
The only think I ever do remember seeing is the occasional photo of Moscow, and even then, as afraid as we were of the USSR, the images of their fanciful looking castles were the stuff of fairy tales.
If you have ever had the opportunity to travel to Western Europe, Turkey, and/or the Middle East, you might recognize the influences of all three merged in the cultures of the Central and Eastern European nations.
In the United States, our most familiar fairy tales mostly come from the German Brothers Grimm or the French through Charles Perrault, with a healthy dash of the Arabian Nights, but think of it: Dracula comes from central Europe (although neither the original novel nor the legends surrounding the historical figure are for children). What more do they have hiding out there?
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Baroness Emmuska Orczy: More than The Scarlet Pimpernel
If you have never read The Scarlet Pimpernel, you really should, and if you have children in your life who like superhero stories, you should definitely read The Scarlet Pimpernel with them as Baroness Emmuska Orczy invented the device of the superhero with a hidden identity in Western literature…without her, we wouldn’t have Wonder Woman, or Superman, or Batman, or Zorro, or the Lone Ranger (remember him) or….
If you know and like The Scarlet Pimpernel, you may want to download one of the numerous sequels Orczy wrote. You don’t often see them in print, but digital versions are available.
Another one of her novels, Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, was an early example of the female detective novel.
When Orczy, a Hungarian Baroness happily married to an English illustrator and son of an English cleric (and therefore, with little money) wasn’t busy inventing new genres of popular fiction, she was translating Hungarian fairy tales into English, including the collection Old Hungarian Fairy Tales.
Read Orzcy for FREE:
Link to her books on Project Gutenberg (downloadable in numerous formats)
Her books at Canada’s The Faded Page (there are books in the public domain in Canada, which has less stringent rules that the U.S.)
Free audiobook versions at Librivox
Old Hungarian Fairy Tales online version at Gateway to the Classics
Arthur Ransome’s Russian Tales
Arthur Ransome is one of those authors that you might know very well if you are British and might never have heard of at all if you are American.
These books are wonderful: they are all about sailing combined with a celebration of independence and initiative. They also depict girls and boys interacting on equal footing. If you like the first one, there are many more titles in the series.
When Ransome was not writing children’s stories (or actually before he did), HE was busy as a correspondent covering the Russian revolution. He carried secret messages from Estonia to the U.K., and was also suspected of passing secrets the other way, from the British to the Soviets.
So as you can guess, his children’s books are slightly exciting for a reason.
When he wasn’t bringing back secret messages, he was brining back Russian fairy tales.
The Swallows and Amazon series is not in the public domain, but his fairy tale collection and some of his other books are.
Also he wrote a rhyme retelling of Aladdin, a story from The Arabian Nights:
For adult readers:
Read Ransome for FREE:
The Faded Page (Canada)
Link to online text of Old Peter’s Russian Tales at Gateway to the Classics
Parker Fillmore and Central European Folklore
Out of the three author’s featured in this post, Parker Fillmore is the only one who specialized in folklore. Thanks to him, we have stories from Finland; Serbia and Montegro (formerly Yugoslavia); and Slovakia and the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia).
It’s not just the actual Soviet Union that has dissolved back into their original (ish) nation/states…all of this is confusing. I know someone who lives in Montegro, and I didn’t realize she lives in former Yugoslavia until just now…I just thought it was a country I had never heard of before.
What’s exciting is that these wonderful stories are available to English speakers in an appealing form, since apparently Fillmore did more than literally translate the languages: he wrote the stories to appeal to an English language audience as well. And that’s something special.
Czechoslovak Fairy Tales online text at Gateway to the Classics
More FREE books by Parker Fillmore at Project Gutenberg