Andrew Lang was a Scots poet, novelist and
literary critic. One of the greatest ironies of his life is that although he wrote for
a living, and published many books of fiction and poetry, as well as articles on anthropology
and history, he is best known for the books he did not write – specifically the 12 collected
works known as Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Books.
The books were put together by Lang at the end of the 19th century, and each volume gathers
together classic tales of wonder from around the world. Lang was actually the editor of
these books, not the author. He made most of the selections of which tales would appear
in the books, but the translation and retelling of the stories was in fact carried out by
his wife and other translators. English fairy tales were very rare at the
time of their publication – only a few collections existed – and so the books were very influential.
Not only did these collections mark the first time many of the stories had appeared in English,
but they also contributed to an enormous increase in the popularity of fairy tales forming part
of children’s literature. The Folio Society Rainbow Fairy collection
is absolutely spectacular, and each book contains illustrations by a different artist. The books
are really designed more for adult collectors than children, due to their hefty size and
weight. Each volume contains 12 full-page colour illustrations plus a frontispiece,
as well as additional pen and ink embellishments throughout. The illustrations are gorgeous,
but not profuse – in many volumes you can go more than 30 pages of text before you come
across an illustration. But what illustrations! The Folio Society commissioned some of the
most outstanding contemporary illustrators around the world for this series, as well
as inviting well-known authors to write new introductions for each volume, and you won’t
find them anywhere else. The books are bound in buckram cloth and blocked in 4 coloured
foils with stunning designs by the illustrators on the cover and spine. Each comes in a cardboard
slipcase of either matching or contrasting colour. The books are set in Founder’s Caslon
– which is appropriate, since this is the oldest living typeface – and each volume
features beautiful printed endpapers, as well as colour staining of the page tops on the
book block. The Blue Fairy Book was first published by
Andrew Lang in 1889, and the Folio Society in 2003. This volume includes some of the
most well-known tales, with seven from the Brothers Grimm, five from the French writer
Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy who originated the term ‘fairy tale’, three from the Arabian
Nights, and four Norwegian fairytales, among other sources. ‘Old stories’, Lang calls
them in his preface, ‘that have pleased so many generations’. It includes Cinderella
and Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
This volume actually includes a retelling by Lang himself, “The Terrible Head” which
is based on the Greek myth of Perseus and the Gorgon.
The book is introduced by author Joan Aiken, and illustrated by Canadian Charles van Sandwyk.
Charles’ illustrations bring to mind the most magical of the golden age of illustrations,
with dragons and fair maidens and sneaky goblins in the woods.
The Red Fairy Book first appeared at Christmas in 1890. Sources include French, Russian,
Danish, and Romanian tales as well as Norse mythology, and it includes classics like ‘Jack
and the Beanstalk’ and Rapunzel, as well as lesser-known stories like ‘The True History
of Little Goldenhood’ which is a twist on the traditional Red Riding Hood tale.
The book is introduced by folklorist Marina Warner, and illustrated by British and Thai
illustrator Niroot, or Natee, Puttapipat. Natee’s drawings are beautifully detailed
and, drawing from the Golden age illustrators, Chinese painting and Persian miniatures, they
evoke the magic of handsome princes, beautiful maidens, and a glorious hen laying a golden
egg. The Green Fairy Book was published in 1892,
and in his Preface to this volume, Lang expressed the view that it would be “probably the last”
of the collection. Their continuing popularity, however, demanded many subsequent books. This
volume contains many stories from Spanish and Chinese traditions as well as tales from
Madame D’Aulnoy and others. The book is introduced by fairy tale scholar
Jack Zipes, and illustrated by South American artist Julian de Narvaez with his evocative
watercolours. That bridge traditional illustration and contemporary graphics.
The Yellow Fairy Book was published in 1894 and contains 48 tales from all over the world.
It features many tales from Hans Christian Andersen, as well as tales from Russia, Hungary,
Iceland and America. The book is introduced by fairy tale expert Maria Tatar, and illustrated
by London artist Danuta Mayer. Danuta’s pen and ink drawings, alongside her arresting
watercolour illustrations, highlight how many animals feature prominently in the fairy tale
world. The Pink Fairy Book was published in 1897,
and it contains 41 Japanese, Scandinavian, and Sicilian tales. The book is introduced
by author A. S. Byatt, and illustrated by London illustrator Debra McFarlane. In Debra’s
whimsical and delicate artworks, fairies flit mischievously through the air, woodland animals
prick up their ears and beautiful maidens catch the eyes of handsome boys.
The Grey Fairy Book was published in 1900, and it contains 35 stories, many from oral
traditions, and others from French, German and Italian collections. The introduction
is by fairy-tale author Kate Bernheimer, in which she describes her first encounters with
Andrew Lang’s fairy books. The illustrations are by Chicago artist Lauren Nassef, who has
created thirteen full-page colour plates, an illustrated frontispiece and ten large
tailpieces, as well as a beautiful endpaper design inspired by the tale of Princess Mutinosa
in ‘An Impossible Enchantment’. The Violet Fairy Book was first published
in 1901, and Romania, Japan, Serbia, Lithuania, Africa, Portugal, and Russia are among the
sources of these 35 stories that tell of a haunted forest, chests of gold coins, a magical
dog, and a man who outwits a dragon. The book is introduced by Alison Lurie, who
describes in her introduction how the dual nature of Andrew Lang’s fairy tale collections
makes them so valuable: they are at once a serious collection of authentic folk stories
from around the world; and a delightful collection of stories that have been carefully translated
and edited with children in mind. This book is illustrated by British artist Bob Venables
– the cover illustration Is for the Serbian folk tale ‘The Finest Liar in the World’.
The Crimson Fairy Book was published in 1903, and it has 36 stories originating in Hungary,
Russia, Finland, Iceland, Tunisia, the Baltic, and elsewhere. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy
introduces, while Tim Stevens’s vibrant illustrations capture the magic of winged
chimeras, valiant princes and fearsome dragons. The Brown Fairy Book, first published in 1904,
contains stories from the American Indians, Australian Aboriginals and African Kaffirs,
and from Persia, Lapland, Brazil, and India. These far-flung tales all obey the time-honoured
rules of fairyland: in the Persian story ‘What the Rose did to the Cypress’, a prince must
guess a riddle to win his princess’s hand in marriage, and in the Scandinavian tale
‘The Fox and the Lapp’, a wily fox hitches a ride on a merchant’s sledge and plays
tricks on everyone he meets. The book is introduced by British psychotherapist
and essayist Adam Phillips. The watercolours and pen and ink drawings created by Omar Rayyan
are especially charming. He is an American artist, but the gorgeous colouring in his
art is clearly influenced by exquisite Persian miniature painting. There is also a sly sense
of humour in many of his illustrations, which makes the perfect accompaniment to such stories
as ‘The Enchanted Head’ or ‘Father Grumbler’. The Orange Fairy Book was published in 1906,
and it includes 33 tales from Jutland, Rhodesia, Uganda, and various European traditions, including
the Hans Christian Andersen classic ‘The Ugly Duckling’. This was the last coloured
fairy book published by the Folio Society in 2013 and is quite difficult to find second
hand. The introduction is by British novelist Sara
Maitland and it is beautifully illustrated by Croatian artist Tomislav Tomić, whose
exquisite and intensely detailed renaissance style you might recognise from some editions
of the Hogwarts Library Books. The Olive Fairy Book was published in 1907
and includes stories from Turkey, India, Denmark, Armenia, the Sudan. In ‘The Satin Surgeon’,
a resourceful princess outwits her wicked sister with an artful disguise. Little Maia’s
adventures take her high above the Earth, carried by a swallow, while the Green Knight
is saved from death by a soup made from snakes. ‘The Story of Little King Loc’ was adapted
by Andrew Lang’s wife from L’Abeille, written by the French poet M. Anatole France.
The book is introduced by Jane Yolen, author of over 300 children’s books. Kate Baylay’s
exotic Art Deco-inspired illustrations are a captivating accompaniment to the stories.
A dragon curls around the balustrades of a beautiful palace, the lovely Dorani flies
across a starry sky, the Boy who Found Fear at Last frees a sinking ship from a mischievous
sea-maiden. The tales are also interspersed with intricate black-and-white drawings by
the artist. The Lilac Fairy Book was the last in the original
coloured fairy book series and was published in 1910. As usual, it contains stories from
around the world, including Portugal, Ireland, Wales. ‘The Brown Bear of Norway’ is actually
an Irish tale that echoes ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Another derives from the Welsh Mabinogion
and tells an Arthurian legend, ‘The Winning of Olwen’. ‘The Heart of a Monkey’ is
a Swahili tale about a wily shark and a courteous but sharp-witted monkey.
As children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean says in her introduction, ‘Spot-the-Greek-Myth’
is just one of the games that can be played by the reader of this intriguing collection.
Oakland-based artist Caitlin Hackett has created a series of beguiling illustrations that capture
the beauty, danger and drama of Lang’s fairy-tale worlds, from enchanted woods to marvellous
underwater kingdoms. Bonus! Andrew Lang’s Nursery Rhyme Book
is not part of the coloured fairy book series, but the Folio Society have produced it uniform
with the series and you should seriously consider getting it as a companion volume if you are
collecting the series. It is a selection of 300 familiar and lesser known nursery rhymes
that was first published in 1897, halfway through the fairy books. In it you will find
old favourites such as ‘Mistress Mary, quite contrary’ and ‘Sing a song of sixpence’,
as well as less familiar gems. The book is introduced by former Children’s
Laureate and acclaimed poet Michael Rosen, who describes nursery rhymes as ‘a gift
we pass on to each other’. It features two illustrators – there are over 100 black
and white line drawings by L. Leslie Brooke, who was a leading children’s book illustrator
of the period – as well as six colour illustrations and a charming binding design by Debra McFarlane,
who you may recall from earlier also illustrated the Pink Fairy Book. You can see the binding
here incorporates the characters from ‘Hey diddle diddle’ and Mother Goose. This volume
is bound in metallic cloth, and has metallic stained top edges. Thank you for listening to what is probably
a too long and overly detailed introduction to the Folio Society Fairy Tale collection.
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