The Enzyklopädie des Märchens (Encyclopedia of the Folktale) (published by Walter de Gruyter) is a reference work presenting the results of almost two centuries of international research in the field of folk narrative tradition past and present. By 2015, 14 volumes (Aarne - Zypern, supplement Ābī - Zombie) and an index have been published.
The Encyclopedia comprises 14 volumes, each volume consisting of three fascicles and containing a total of 720 pages. As of 1997, it is published at the rate of one fascicle per year. The Encyclopedia comprises approximately 3900 alphabetically arranged entries categorized as follows:
- Theories and methods, genre questions, problems of style and structure, issues of context and performance
- Short monographs on important tale-types and motifs
- Biographies of scholars, collectors, and authors of literary works relevant to folk narrative research
- National and regional surveys providing information about folk narrative tradition and folk narrative research
The precursor of the present work was the Handwörterbuch des deutschen Märchens (1930-1940) edited by Lutz Mackensen. Since modern folk narrative research can only be carried out on an international level, it was inappropriate to continue the handbook of German folktales within its national and topical limitations. The new concept required much preparatory work, such as the creation of a comprehensive text archive relying on source material and collections from all over the world, and the study of a large amount of literature. From modest beginnings in the late 1950's, the research centre in Göttingen has been continually expanded with the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Stiftung Volkswagenwerk. In 1980, the Encyclopedia has been included among the long term research projects of the Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen.
The journal Fabula (1958 sqq.), the International Congress of Folk Narrative Research held in Kiel and Copenhagen in 1959, the foundation of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research in the following year, and subsequent international congresses which are regularly held every 4/5 years promoted worldwide contact with scholars and other people interested in the study of folk narratives, thus helping the project find many competent collaborators. The entries of the Encyclopedia have been contributed by approx. 800 authors from approx. 60 countries.
The title Enzyklopädie des Märchens does not imply a genre restriction to Märchen in terms of modern definitions. The Encyclopedia deals with all narrative categories which the Brothers Grimm, according to their broad conception of Märchen, have included in their Household Tales, i. e. tales of magic, but also animal tales, fables, religious tales, aetiological narratives, religious, historical, and demonological legends, novelle, humorous tales, formula tales, etc. This corresponds to the genres found in the AaTh and ATU indices.
The Encyclopedia aims at comparing the rich stock of narrative material available from a broad range of ethnic groups which has been transmitted orally and through the medium of literature, and at pointing out its social, historical, psychological and religious backgrounds. It focuses on the oral and literary narrative traditions of Europe, and of countries influenced by European culture, as well as on those from the Mediterranean area and from Asia. The folk traditions of peoples who have only recently become literate are dealt with in regional surveys. Furthermore, the channels of transmission of narrative themes and motifs are traced in sources such as exempla and sermon books, chronicles, legendaries and chapbooks, as well as literary works which have a bearing on oral tradition, thus illustrating the permanent exchange between literature and oral tradition.
The Encyclopedia thus provides an abundance of information which is of interest not only to folklorists, but also to members of other disciplines such as philologists and historians of literature, anthropologists, historians of religion, educationalists, historians of art, and media experts. Each article aims at presenting the latest state of research while attention is also drawn to research desiderata. Authors, editors and the editorial staff are striving to present comprehensive articles which may also appeal to the general reader.