Andrew Lang's Fairy Books

Andrew Lang's Fairy Books
Rumpelstiltskin from The Blue Fairy Book, by Henry J. Ford

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. Although Andrew Lang 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 them an immensely influential collection, especially as he used foreign-language sources, giving many of these 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 telling 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 collect 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 the stories are listed without any attribution at all (such as 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. He spoke in the prefaces about why. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his "On Fairy-Stories", appreciated the collections, 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)

First edition, 1894

Its initial printing was 15,000 copies.

Pink Fairy Book (1897)

Grey Fairy Book (1900)

First edition, 1900

Violet Fairy Book (1901)

Second edition, 1902
  • The Story of a Gazelle
  • How a Fish swam in the Air and a Hare in the Water
  • Two in a Sack
  • The Envious Neighbour
  • The Fairy of the Dawn
  • The Enchanted Knife
  • Jesper Who Herded the Hares
  • The Underground Workers
  • The History of Dwarf Long Nose
  • The Nunda, Eater of People
  • The Story of Hassebu
  • The Maiden with the Wooden Helmet
  • The Monkey and the Jelly-fish

Crimson Fairy Book (1903)

First edition, 1903

Brown Fairy Book (1904)

Spine of first edition, 1904

Orange Fairy Book (1906)

First edition, 1906
  • The Story of the Hero Makoma
  • The Magic Mirror
  • Story of the King who would see Paradise
  • How Isuro the Rabbit tricked Gudu
  • Ian, the Soldier's Son
  • The Fox and the Wolf
  • How Ian Direach got the Blue Falcon
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • The Two Caskets
  • The Goldsmith's Fortune
  • The Enchanted Wreath
  • The Foolish Weaver
  • The Clever Cat
  • The Story of Manus Pinkel the Thief

Olive Fairy Book (1907)

Lilac Fairy Book (1910)


  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. ^ Green, p. 249.

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