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The Red Fairy Book

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Title: The Red Fairy Book  
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Subject: Koschei, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Princesses of Whiteland, The Master Thief, Farmer Weathersky, Dapplegrim, The Death of Koschei the Deathless, Katie Woodencloak, Soria Moria Castle, Shortshanks
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The Red Fairy Book

Andrew Lang's Fairy Books
Henry J. Ford
Blue Fairy Book
Red Fairy Book
Green Fairy Book
Yellow Fairy Book
Pink Fairy Book
Grey Fairy Book
Violet Fairy Book
Crimson Fairy Book
Brown Fairy Book
Orange Fairy Book
Olive Fairy Book
Lilac Fairy Book
Author Andrew Lang
Illustrator Henry J. Ford (and others)
Language English
Genre Fairy tales
Published 1889–1910
No. of books 12

Andrew Lang's Fairy Books—also known as Andrew Lang's "Coloured" Fairy Books or Andrew Lang's Fairy Books of Many Colors—are a series of twelve collections of fairy tales, published between 1889 and 1910. Each volume is distinguished by its own color. In all, 437 tales from a broad range of cultures and countries are presented.

Andrew Lang (1844–1912) was a Scots poet, novelist, and literary critic. Although he did not collect the stories himself from the oral tradition, the extent of his sources, who had collected them originally—with the notable exception of Madame d'Aulnoy—made the collections immensely influential. Lang gave many of the tales their first appearance in English. As acknowledged in the prefaces, although Lang himself made most of the selections, his wife and other translators did a large portion of the translating and retelling of the actual stories.

According to Anita Silvey, "The irony of Lang's life and work is that although he wrote for a profession—literary criticism; fiction; poems; books and articles on anthropology, mythology, history, and travel…he is best recognized for the works he did not write."[1]

Many of the books were illustrated by Henry J. Ford, with Lancelot Speed and G. P. Jacomb-Hood also contributing some illustrations.

Origin and influence

Lang's urge to gather and publish fairy tales was rooted in his own experience with the folk and fairy tales of his home territory along the English-Scottish border. At the time he worked, English fairy-tale collections were rare: Dinah Maria Mulock Craik's The Fairy Book (1869) was a lonely precedent. When Lang began his efforts, he "was fighting against the critics and educationists of the day", who judged the traditional tales' "unreality, brutality, and escapism to be harmful for young readers, while holding that such stories were beneath the serious consideration of those of mature age".[2] Over a generation, Lang's books worked a revolution in this public perception.

The series was immensely popular, helped by Lang's reputation in folklore, and by the packaging device of the uniform books. The series proved of great influence in children's literature, increasing the popularity of fairy tales over tales of real life.[3] It also inspired a host of imitators, like English Fairy Tales (1890) and More English Fairy Tales (1894) by Joseph Jacobs; the American series edited by Clifton Johnson—The Oak-Tree Fairy Book (1905), The Elm-Tree Fairy Book (1909), The Fir-Tree Fairy Book (1912); and the collections of Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith, among others.


Some of Lang's collected stories were included without any attribution at all (e.g., "The Blue Mountains"), and the rest are listed with brief notes. When this is "Grimm" or "Madame d'Aulnoy" or attributed to a specific collection, the stories can be tracked down, but other notes are less helpful. For instance, "The Wonderful Birch" is listed only as "From the Russo-Karelian".

Lang repeatedly explained in the prefaces that the tales he told were all old, and not his, and that he found new fairy tales no match for them:

But the three hundred and sixty-five authors who try to write new fairy tales are very tiresome. They always begin with a little boy or girl who goes out and meets the fairies of polyanthuses and gardenias and apple blossoms: "Flowers and fruits, and other winged things". These fairies try to be funny, and fail; or they try to preach, and succeed. Real fairies never preach or talk slang. At the end, the little boy or girl wakes up and finds that he has been dreaming.

Such are the new fairy stories. May we be preserved from all the sort of them!

The collections were specifically intended for children, and consequently edited for that end. Lang wrote in his prefaces about why. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his "On Fairy-Stories" (1939), appreciated Lang's books, but objected to the slanting to children. Tolkien also complained that several of the tales involve no magical elements at all; he cited "The Heart of a Monkey", in which (unlike "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body" or other tales) the monkey merely claimed that his heart was outside his body, as opposed to its actually (and magically) being so. But in this, Lang followed the practice of his sources; many fairy tale collectors include tales with no strictly marvelous elements.

The Books

Blue Fairy Book (1889)

The first edition consisted of 5000 copies, which sold for 6 shillings each. The book assembled a wide range of tales, with seven from the Brothers Grimm, five from Madame d'Aulnoy, three from the Arabian Nights, and four Norse stories, among other sources.[4]

Red Fairy Book (1890)

The sequel to the initial volume, it appeared at Christmas 1890 in a first printing of 10,000 copies.

Green Fairy Book (1892)

In his Preface to this volume, Lang expressed the view that it would be "probably the last" in the series; but continuing popularity demanded subsequent collections.

Yellow Fairy Book (1894)

Its initial printing was 15,000 copies.

Pink Fairy Book (1897)

Grey Fairy Book (1900)

Violet Fairy Book (1901)

  • A Tale Of the Tontlawald
  • The Finest Liar in the World

Crimson Fairy Book (1903)

Brown Fairy Book (1904)

Orange Fairy Book (1906)

Olive Fairy Book (1907)

Lilac Fairy Book (1910)


External links

  • Andrew Lang collection
  • [illustrated Bibliography of the fairy book first editions;]
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