A first edition of Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book (1889) will run you about $2000 for a copy in good condition. Amazon has a free Kindle edition. You can also download a free audiobook version. From Abe Books:
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Andrew Lang (1844-1912) was a Scottish poet, novelist and literary critic, but his enduring legacy is not his prodigious writing. Lang is best remembered for his contribution to folklore and storytelling thanks to his 12-volume ‘Fairy Books’ collection.
Many people in the late Victorian era considered traditional fairytales to be unfit for children because of their brutal and violent themes, so English collections of fairytales were rare during this period. Lang, on the other hand, grew up reading classic fairy tales during his childhood in the rural Scottish Borders and he believed that the next generation of children should not be subjected to the dreamy, gentle, flower-orientated fairy tales that were popular at the time.
The first of his collections was the Blue Fairy Book (1889), for which Lang pulled together tales from the Brothers Grimm, Madame d’Aulnoy, the Arabian Nights, and many other sources. The first edition had 5,000 copies, which sold for six shillings each. The book did reasonably well and led to the release of the Red (1890) and Green Fairy Books (1892), in the preface of the latter Lang predicted that this third volume would be his last. However, Lang underestimated the appeal of these tales culled from all corners of the earth including Africa, Norway, North America and China.
Neil Gaiman’s stirring narrative of Hansel and Gretel combined with artist Lorenzo Mattotti’s oppressively black illustrations give the Brothers Grimm fairytale a nightmarish quality different from what I remember as a kid. Back then the terrifying takeaway was the trusting old woman in the candy-coated gingerbread house who transformed into a mean and hungry cannibal. Don’t get me wrong, the evil old woman is still mighty sinister in Gaiman’s book, but this time the takeaway was the horror of parental abandonment and betrayal. Maybe because I’m now an adult, or maybe because it wasn’t told in such detail when I was a kid (I can’t remember), the events leading up to Hansel and Gretel finding the gingerbread house in this version are quite unsettling. Although it’s a great creepy book for kids, I’d be careful not to read it to younger children who might be sensitive to the darker side of fairy tales. After all, there are no good fairies in this book.
It's no secret that the Disney-fied versions of fairy tales that we grew up with in modern times pale in comparison to the originals, told by the likes of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.
The originals were often dark and gruesome cautionary tales that taught children about the dangers of the world. Now, for the first time, an English translation of the first edition of the original tales as told by the Brothers Grimm has been published by Princeton University Press. Even the cover of this book is scary! Read the rest
For the past two months, my daughter's and my main bedtime reading has been The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a modern folktale written by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess, a power duo if ever there was one. This is a story set on an American prairie farm sometime in the 20th century, about Lillian, a kind-hearted girl who sets out saucers of milk for the wild cats, scatters grain for the songbirds, and leaves a biscuit by the oldest, most gnarled apple tree in the orchard for the Apple Tree Man. And it's because of her good heart and her wild spirit that the cats of Tanglewood Forest defy the king of cats, and work cat-magic to rescue her when she is bitten by a snake and brought near to death. Now she has been reborn as a kitten, and she must find out how she can once again become a girl.
The book is lavishly illustrated with Charlie Vess's amazing art nouveau paintings (you may recognize these from his frequent collaborations with Neil Gaiman, such as the beautiful picture book Blueberry Girl). The paintings -- which appear as full pages, but are also worked into the margins, endpapers, and jacket -- are a wonderful and gripping accompaniment to the story. Although this story is too sophisticated for my six-year-old to have read to herself, the combination of the illustrations and my reading it aloud made it absolutely accessible to her. And these paintings are so gorgeous that she was more than happy to sit and thumb through the book, enjoying them on their own. Read the rest