The Lay of Hildebrand – The contribution of German writers to the technical development and the sum total of the world’s stories has been especially rich. Owing doubtless to the political vicissitudes of the German speaking peoples, and to the widely varying elements that combined through the ages to produce it, the short story literature of the Germans offers a greater diversity in subject matter and treatment than that of France or Italy or Spain.
There is a substratum of pre Christian folklore and tradition that has persisted through the centuries, lending to the stories of even the most recent writers a certain air of romance and mystery that is often lacking among the best productions of other lands.
German vernacular literature
The earliest specimen of German vernacular literature, the Lay of Hildebrand, a precious document dating from the early Ninth Century, happens to be a well told short story. The author was an Austrian, but it must be remembered that German literature as a whole embraces certain adjacent countries which, like parts of Switzerland and Austria, are essentially German, racially and intellectually.
As early as the second decade of the Eleventh Century there existed a fairly well defined fiction form. Ruodlieb, though it is too long for inclusion in this volume, is a genuine long short story. It was written about the year io3o. Not long afterward came the romances and Lays of chivalry, like the Gudrun, and somewhat later The Lay of the J Vibe lungs.
During the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries the courtly romances flourished; it was the age of the great Minnesingers, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Hartmann von Aue, and Gottfried von Strassburg, all of whom drew largely on France for their plots and characters. It is possible to select from the romances of these an infinity of episodes, like The Coming of Gandin (which appears in the following pages), which are true short stories.