Harry Potter and the chamber of gender secrets

June 27, 2003

A little known 18th-century German writer of fairy tales who inspired Sir Walter Scott can be seen as a precursor of J. K. Rowling, a Glasgow University academic believes.

German expert Laura Martin will reveal the work of Benedikte Naubert at an international conference this weekend at St Andrews University on "Violence, Culture and Identity".

Dr Martin said that Naubert, who wrote before the Brothers Grimm, published her work anonymously.

"We suspect she did it to protect her gender because she didn't want to be known as a woman. It's like J. K. Rowling hiding behind her initials," she said.

Harry Potter's creator reportedly used her initials because it was thought boys would be put off reading a book by a female author.

Dr Martin said that, while the Brothers Grimm aimed to write down folk tales they heard, Naubert based her work on tales, legends and sagas she discovered in manuscripts in libraries. She also wrote historical novels that were praised by Scott.

"She's not trying to create a collection of folk wisdom, she's just enjoying writing stories, telling tales because it intrigues her," she said.

Ms Rowling recently revealed that she wrote only to satisfy herself and out of loyalty to her fans.

Dr Martin said that the original Grimm fairy tales were very violent, with moral overtones of the fate of "bad" boys and girls. Morality was different for each sex, with boys being allowed to go into the world to be heroes, while girls were required to be quiet.

But in Naubert's tales, heroes were not always rewarded as expected, and men as well as women could be quiet.

Naubert transformed a traditional "nasty, anti-semitic tale", later recorded by the Brothers Grimm as "The Jew in the Thorn-Bush", into a story of accepting foreigners and taking care of people with no thought of reward, said Dr Martin.

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