Andrew Lang's Fairy Books

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Andrew Lang's Fairy Books
Rumpelstiltskin from The Blue Fairy Book, by Henry J. Ford
The Blue Fairy Book
The Red Fairy Book
The Green Fairy Book
The Yellow Fairy Book
The Pink Fairy Book
The Grey Fairy Book
The Violet Fairy Book
The Crimson Fairy Book
The Brown Fairy Book
The Orange Fairy Book
The Olive Fairy Book
The 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 oral primary sources only Madame d'Aulnoy and Lang had collected tales from such a large variety of sources, which 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]

The books were primarily illustrated by Henry J. Ford. Lancelot Speed and G. P. Jacomb-Hood also contributed some illustrations.

Origin and influence[edit]

"The Crown Returns to the Queen of the Fishes" Illustration by H. J. Ford for Andrew Lang's The Orange Fairy Book

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 inspired such imitators as English Fairy Tales (1890) and More English Fairy Tales (1894) by Joseph Jacobs. Other followers included the American The Oak-Tree Fairy Book (1905), The Elm-Tree Fairy Book (1909) and The Fir-Tree Fairy Book (1912), series edited by Clifton Johnson and the collections of Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith.


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, as Lang explained in the prefaces to the books, bowdlerised. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his "On Fairy-Stories" (1939) stated that while he appreciated the collections, he objected to his editing the stories for children. He also criticized Lang for including stories without magical elements in them, with "The Heart of a Monkey" given as an example. Here, unlike "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body" or other similar stories, the monkey merely claims that his heart is outside his body. However, many fairy tale collectors include tales with no strictly marvelous elements.[citation needed]

The Books[edit]

The Blue Fairy Book (1889)[edit]

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 Norwegian fairytales, among other sources.[4]

The Red Fairy Book (1890)[edit]

It appeared at Christmas 1890 in a first printing of 10,000 copies.

The Green Fairy Book (1892)[edit]

First edition, 1892

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 subsequent collections.

The Yellow Fairy Book (1894)[edit]

First edition, 1894

Its initial printing was 15,000 copies.

The Pink Fairy Book (1897)[edit]

The Grey Fairy Book (1900)[edit]

First edition, 1900

The Violet Fairy Book (1901)[edit]

Second edition, 1902

The Crimson Fairy Book (1903)[edit]

First edition, 1903

The Brown Fairy Book (1904)[edit]

Spine of first edition, 1904

Media related to Brown Fairy Book at Wikimedia Commons

The Orange Fairy Book (1906)[edit]

Ian and the Blue Falcon by H. J. Ford for Andrew Lang's The Orange Fairy Book
First edition, 1906

The Olive Fairy Book (1907)[edit]

The Blue Parrot. by H. J. Ford for Andrew Lang's The Olive Fairy Book
First edition, 1907

The Lilac Fairy Book (1910)[edit]


  1. ^ Anita Silvey, Children's Books and Their Creators, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995; p. 387.
  2. ^ Roger Lancelyn Green, "Andrew Lang in Fairyland", in: Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley, eds., Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, New York, Oxford University Press; second edition, 1980; p. 250.
  3. ^ Betsy Hearne, "Booking the Brothers Grimm: Art, Adaptations and Economics", p 221 James M. McGlathery, ed. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, ISBN 0-252-01549-5
  4. ^

External links[edit]