The colourful, gilt tooled covers of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books are magical in themselves: take The Grey Fairy Book, adorned with a fantastic image of a scantily clad fairy riding an owl, or The Green Fairy Book, bearing a fearsome, curled dragon to rival Tolkien’s Smaug. Perhaps this is what has made this set of 25 books so enduringly collectable since their publication between 1889 and 1913.
Thomas Hutchinson was clearly enthralled by Lang’s Fairy Books, not only making a point of collecting first editions, but also gathering scraps of ephemera and newspaper clippings relating to their creator, pasting these into his copies. Lot 80 in our upcoming Rare Books auction on 11 January comprises 11 Fairy Books, many including the bookplates. The most collectable of the Fairy Books, The Blue Fairy Book, even encloses an autographed letter from Andrew Lang. Whether Hutchinson himself had written to Lang, or another adult collector of the works had done so is unclear, however Lang’s reply clearly identifies his intended target audience when he writes: 'Dear Sir/ This book is only meant for children…/ Truly yours, A. Lang'.
However, it seems a little unfair that the 798 stories contained in Lang’s set of 25 books should be entirely restricted to younger readers. Indeed, in order to publish the stories, Lang himself took a keen interest in folk and fairy tales, beginning with those from his native Scottish Borders. Lang continued to collect stories from an unprecedented variety of sources, although none of them were directly gathered from the oral tradition.
Roger Lancelyn Green also points out that Lang received criticism in his day for his Fairy Books, writing that the educational specialists of the Edwardian era decided that the tales’ 'unreality, brutality, and escapism …[were]… harmful for young readers, while holding that such stories were beneath the serious consideration of those of mature age'.* Evidently, these concerns did nothing to diminish the appeal of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, and readers of any age have been able to enjoy Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and The Snow Queen, recently rekindled in the form of Disney’s Frozen (to the delight and despair of many parents) ever since.
*Source: Roger Lancelyn Green, Andrew Lang in Fairy Land, 1980
11 January 2017 | 11:00am
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Cathy Marsden | Specialist
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