Andrew Lang and his Fairy Books September 30 2014, 0 Comments

by Bethany Wagner

Image from the Crimson Fairy BookBorn in Scotland in 1844, Andrew Lang attended St. Andrews University and Balliol College, Oxford. He quickly became a leading scholar in the areas of literary criticism, anthropology folklore, mythology, and history, publishing extensively on the subjects. He published influential scholarship on Homer and Scottish history as well as his own collections of poems, becoming known as one of the most skilled, versatile writers of the time.

Eventually Lang put his scholarly expertise to use in a different way by publishing beautiful retellings of fairy tales, beginning with the Blue Fairy Book in 1889. With masterfully detailed illustrations primarily by Henry J. Ford, the twelve books—each named for a different color fairy—have become classic works of literature in the genre of fairy tales.Image from the Violet Fairy Book

Comprised of 437 tales from a wide range of cultures and countries, the Andrew Lang's Fairy Books represent an influential milestone in folklore scholarship. Many tales were published in English for the first time, and the collecting of classic fairy tales from so many different cultures made this series a unique, unprecedented work. For example, in The Blue Fairy Book, the Arabian folk tale “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” immediately follows the European tale “Cinderella.” The books include captivating renditions of familiar tales such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Three Little Pigs,” while also presenting engaging tales that are new to many modern readers such as “The Witch in the Stone Boat,” “The Golden Lion,” and “The King of the Waterfalls.”

In 1906, Lang was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, one of the highest scholarly distinctions in the United Kingdom, and his scholarship remains influential more than a century after his death. However, he is most remembered as the man who collected beloved tales, penned them in new ways, and bound them into enchanting volumes of timeless fairy stories.

Andrew Lang Portrait