From the historical point of view, then, popular fiction has an important place in literary education. But in and for itself also, without regard to historical standards, this great body of writings possesses a direct human interest not inferior to that of the literature of art. The works selected for the present series illustrate very well the varieties of the type and the phases of life with which it may be concerned. The collections of Andersen〖H. C., xvii, 221ff.〗 and the Grimms〖H. C., xvii, 47ff.〗 offer, in general, the least complicated of narratives. The tales, or Märchen (as they have come to be called in English as well as in German), deal with simple episodes, localized, to be sure, but having for the most part no marked national or personal character. They are universal in appeal, and almost universal in actual occurrence wherever folklore has been collected. A very simple stage of narrative is likewise exhibited by the Æsopic fable.〖H. C., xvii, 11ff.〗 The hero tale of Ireland, on the other hand, is a more complex product. Here there is accumulation of episodes, with something like epic structure; and definite characters, half-historic and half-legendary, stand out as the heroes of the action. The localization is significant, and the stories reproduce the life and atmosphere of the northern heroic age. Both the narrative prose and the numerous poems that are interspersed in the sagas testify to the existence of a distinct literary tradition, still barbaric in many respects, in the old bardic schools. Finally, the “Arabian Nights” presents a still more elaborate development in a different direction. The fundamental elements again are beast fables, fairy lore, and popular anecdotes of love, prowess, or intrigue; but they are worked up under the influence of a rich and settled civilization and depict, with something like historic fullness, the life and manners of the Mohammedan Middle Ages. The collection, like the works mentioned earlier, is of unknown authorship, and is plainly the product of many men through many generations. But the style gives evidence of a finished literary tradition; the nameless and numerous contributors appear to have been men of books rather than the simple story-tellers of an age of oral delivery. Though not in the stage of individual authorship, the “Arabian Nights” stands yet outside the range of the strictly popular and within the realm of literary composition.

Even in its most elaborate development, however, popular fiction remains something quite different from the customary modern novel or narrative poem. It commonly lacks a sustained plot, worked out with close regard to cause and effect. Still more characteristically it lacks the study of character and the intellectual analysis of such varied problems as occupy the fiction of the present age. The popular romances lay their stress chiefly on incident and adventure or simple intrigue, and set forth only the more familiar and accepted moral teachings. They represent, on the whole, an instinctive or traditional, rather than a highly reflective, philosophy of life. For all these reasons they have come to be regarded chiefly as the literature of children; a natural result, perhaps, of the fact that they originated largely in the childhood of civilization or among the simple peoples in more advanced ages. But it is noteworthy that they were not, in most cases, really intended for the young; and the man or woman who has outgrown them completely has one serious loss to set down against the gains of advancing years.

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