Harrap’s Myths Series
George G. Harrap published a series of books on myths and legends around the world with detailed and decorative binding designs that frequently catch the eye of a book collector when they are spied on a shelf. The first title in the series was published in 1907 (Myths of the Norsemen), and other decorative volumes followed each year until the late 1910s. Later volumes from 1920 onwards feature less gaudy cover designs. Harrap referred to this series under various titles in its advertising material over the years, including “The Myths Series,” “The Famous Myths Series,” and “The Beautiful Myths Series”.
Each volume was heavily marketed as a gift book (you can enlarge the associated photograph to see Harrap’s stand at a 1916 trade fair held in the Victoria and Albert Museum), and the titles were made available in different bindings for different budgets. The ones I am focussing on here are primarily the cloth, gilt-top (“cloth extra”) volumes with glorious gilt cover designs that were sold at at 7s 6d. The more deluxe versions were fairly limited in number and bound in soft suede (“Velvet Persian Yapp”, sold at 10 6d), half Morocco leather or half vellum (15s), and full Morocco leather (21s). The cloth books were issued with a paper dust jacket, although these are rarely retained, and the suede-bound books apparently came boxed (according to the adverts – I haven’t yet seen one).
Gresham Publishing released a similar set of myth and legend titles over the same period that may also be of interest which I have covered here.
Although the bindings are not uniform for this series, they are for the most part uniformly detailed and decorative, with a variety of fonts and artistic styles chosen to reflect the different themes of each volume. Look out for first editions of these titles because in later years, although the contents are the same, the titles were typically republished in much cheaper bindings with less visual appeal that could be collected as a uniform set. The titles have also been reprinted by other publishers, with the Nickerson series of 1927 the most common vintage.
List of Harrap Myths
This is a complete illustrated list of the first cloth editions (usually the most desirable bindings), which were sized as Demy 8vo (8 5/8 x 5 3/4 inches) and printed letterpress.
The Myths of Greece and Rome – Hélène A. Guerber
Harrap, 1907. With 64 full-page illustrations, featuring the works of Lord Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones, Solomon J. Solomon, G.F. Watts, Herbert Draper, Henrietta Rae, Harry Bates, John Collier, E.J. Poynter, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Rubens, Canova, Guido Reni, Phidias, Bernini, Titian, Velasquez, and more.
“This magnificently illustrated volume, for which Messrs. Harrap are to be warmly thanked, is among the most successful of its kind. They are stories which Mr. Guerber has told with grace and charm, and right feeling for the classic periods; they are stories which we have grown to believe can never be told too often. The book is a fitting presentment of such a subject.” — 1907 review from The Bookman
Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas – Hélène A. Guerber
Harrap, 1908. With 64 full-page illustrations, featuring the work of H. Hendrich, Gilbert Bayes, J.C. Dollman, Karl Dielitz, H. Kaulbach, J. Wagrez, C. Ehrenberg, Severin Nilsson, W. E. Winge, Chas P. Sainton, Knut Ekwall, and more.
“A well-written Series of the fine tales from the Eddas and Sagas, which, as William Morris said of the Volsunga Saga, ‘should be to all our race what the tale of Troy was to the Greeks.’ A striking feature of the collection is the number of excellent illustrations after pictures by German and Norse artists, which express the spirit of the ancient myths in a wonderful way… The binding is another testimony to Messrs. Harrap’s skill in this direction, and the volume as a whole is handsome and desirable.” — 1908 review from The Guardian.
Myths and Legends of the Middle Ages – Hélène A. Guerber
Harrap, 1909. With 36 full-page illustrations by various artists.
“If there is a phrase in our tongue which connotes the atmosphere of romance, it is that of “the Middle Ages”. Do but mention the words, and it is as another opening of Pandora’s box. Out there streams a retinue of goodly knights, each armed cap-à-pie, each bearing in his helmet some gaily coloured thread or ribbon, the favour of the lady of his allegiance. Yonder before them tower the battlements of an ancient city, its walls grim and grey even beneath the dazzling shafts of sunlight, which make armour and weapons shine like very silver.” – From the introduction.
Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race – Maud Isabel Ebbutt
Harrap, 1910. With 64 full-page illustrations featuring the work of J.H.F. Bacon, Byam Shaw, W.H. Margetson, R.I. Patten Wilson and Gertrude Demain Hammond.
“It may be that to some people the heroes I have chosen do not seem heroic, but there is no doubt that to the age and generation which wrote or sang of them they appeared real heroes, worthy of remembrance and celebration, and it has been my object to come as close as possible to the medieaval mind, with its elementary conceptions of honour, loyalty, devotion, and duty. I have therefore altered the tales as little as I could, and have tried to put them as fairly as possible before modern readers, bearing in mind the altered conditions of things and of intellects to-day.” – From the preface.
Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race – T. W. Rolleston
Harrap, 1911. With 46 full-page illustrations.
‘The past may be forgotten, but it never dies. The elements which in the most remote times have entered into a nation’s composition endure through all its history, and help to mould that history, and to stamp the character and genius of the people. The examination, therefore, of these elements, and the recognition, as far as possible, of the part they have actually contributed to the warp and weft of a nation’s life, must be a matter of no small interest and importance to those who realise that the present is the child of the past, and the future of the present; who
will not regard themselves, their kinsfolk, and their fellow-citizens as mere transitory phantoms, hurrying from darkness into darkness, but who know that, in
them, a vast historic stream of national life is passing from its distant and mysterious origin towards a future which is largely conditioned by all the past wanderings of that human stream, but which is also, in no small degree, what they, by their courage, their patriotism, their knowledge, and their understanding, choose to make it.” – From the preface.
Stories of Indian Gods & Heroes – W. D. Monro
Harrap, 1911. With 16 full-page illustrations by Evelyn Paul.
A collection of tales from Indian mythologies including stories of deities such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, as well as legendary heroes like Rama, Krishna, and Arjuna.
The Myths and Legends of Japan – F. Hadland Davis
Harrap, 1912. With 32 full-page illustrations by Evelyn Paul.
“In writing Myths and Legends of Japan I have been much indebted to numerous authorities on Japanese subjects, and most especially to Lafcadio Hearn, who first revealed to me the Land of the Gods.” – From the preface.
The Myths of Mexico and Peru – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1913. With 60 full-page illustrations mainly by Gilbert James and William Sewell and other drawings and maps.
“The real interest of American mediaeval history must ever circle around Mexico and Peru–her golden empires, her sole exemplars of civilisation; and it is to the books upon the character of these two nations that we must turn for a romantic interest as curious and as absorbing as that bound up in the history of Egypt or Assyria.”
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists – Sister Nivedita (Margaret E. Noble) and Ananda Coomaraswamy
Harrap, 1913. With 32 colour plates by ‘Indian artists’ under the supervision of Abanindro Nāth Tagore.
“Sister Nivedita, to whom the present work was first entrusted, needs no introduction to Western or to Indian readers. A most sincere disciple of Swämi Vivekananda, who was himself a follower of the great Ramakrishna, she brought to the study of Indian life and literature a sound knowledge of Western educational and social science, and an unsurpassed enthusiasm of devotion to the peoples and the ideals of her adopted country… Her untimely death in 1911 has made it necessary that the present work should be completed by another hand.” – From the preface.
Myths and Legends of the North American Indians – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1914. With 32 plates in colour by James Jack and other illustrations.
“The North American Indian has so long been an object of the deepest interest that the neglect of his picturesque and original mythologies and the tales to which they have given rise is difficult of comprehension… The primary object of this volume is to furnish the reader with a general view of the mythologies of the Red Man of North America, accompanied by such historical and ethnological information as will assist him in gauging the real conditions under which this most interesting section of humanity existed.” – From the preface
Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians – Woislav M. Petrovitch
Harrap, 1914. With 32 colour plates by William Sewell and Gilbert James.
“This delightful book is not only valuable for its introduction to the legendary heroes of the Serbs, and to that warrior poetry which is their most precious inheritance; it is also a veritable storehouse of Serb national customs, and of superstitions which are of curiously mixed Christian and pagan origin.” – Daily Chronicle 1914
Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1915. With 16 colour plates by Evelyn Paul, and 32 other illustrations.
“In this volume the religious history of ancient Egypt has been reviewed in the light of the science of modern mythology. Few Egyptologists are well informed regarding the basic laws of that science, and much misapprehension regarding the character and attributes of many of the deities worshipped in the Nile Valley in times past has thereby resulted.” – From the preface.
Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1915. With 16 collotypes after drawings by Lt. Louis Weirter, and 16 16 illustrations in colour.
“An abundance of literature exists on the subject of the Rhine and its legends, but with few exceptions the works on it which are accessible to English-speaking peoples are antiquated in spirit and verbiage, and their authors have been content to accept the first version of such legends and traditions as came their way
without submitting them to any critical examination… This volume is thus something more than a mere compilation, and when it is further stated that only the most characteristic and original versions and variants of the many tales here given have gained admittance to the collection, its value will become apparent.” – From the introduction.
The Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1916. With 8 colour plates by Evelyn Paul, and 32 other illustrations.
“The purpose of this book is to provide not only a popular account of the religion and mythology of ancient Babylonia and Assyria, but to extract and present to the reader the treasures of romance latent in the subject, the peculiar richness of which has been recognized since the early days of archaeological effort in Chaldea.” – From the preface.
Legends and Romances of Brittany – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1917. With 31 colour plates by W. Otway McCannell.
“It is not the folk-tale alone which goes to make up the romantic literary output of a people; their ballads, the heroic tales which they have woven around passages in their national history, their legends (employing the term in its proper sense), along with the more literary attempts of their romance-weavers, their beliefs regarding the supernatural, the tales which cluster around their ancient homes and castles—all of these, although capable of separate classification, are akin to folk-lore, and I have not, therefore, hesitated to use what in my discretion I consider the best out of immense stores of material as being much more suited to supply British readers with a comprehensive view of Breton story. – From the preface.
Legends and Romances of Spain – Lewis Spence
Harrap, 1920. With 16 illustrations by W. Otway McCannell.
“If, spent with journeying, a stranger should seat himself in some garden in old Granada, and from beneath a tenting of citron and mulberry leaves open his ears to the melody of the waters of the City of Pomegranates and his spirit to the sorcery of its atmosphere, he will gladly believe that in the days when its colours were less mellow and its delicious air perhaps less reposeful the harps of its poets were the looms upon which the webs of romance were woven. – From Chapter I.
Myths and Legends of China – E. T. C. Werner
Harrap, 1922. With 32 full-page illustrations in colour and gold by ‘Chinese artists’.
“The chief literary sources of Chinese myths are the Li tai shên hsien lieb chuan, in eight volumes, the Fêng shên yen i, in eight volumes, and the Sou shên chi, in ten volumes. In writing the following pages I have translated or paraphrased largely from these works.” – From the preface.
Myths and Legends of the Polynesians – Johannes C. Andersen
Harrap, 1928. With 16 colour plates by Richard Wallwork, 32 plates in half-tone and other illustrations.
A compendium of the myths and legends covering the vast Pacific triangle. Includes ancient stories of the gods and creation, of nature and the supernatural, of love and war, of adultery, revenge, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and more, alongside information about Polynesian history and customs.
Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals – W. Ramsay-Smith
Harrap, 1930. With 16 colour plates by Alice Woodward and other illustrators.
“The aboriginals of Australia have a vast number of legends, myths and folklore stories… These stories and traditions have been handed down orally for thousands of years.” – From the preface.
Myths and Legends of the Bantu – Alice Werner
Harrap, 1933. With 32 black & white illustrations from photographs.
Legends and myths from the Bantu culture concerning the gods, the origin of mankind, the afterlife, the heroes and demigods, various creatures, real and mythical, as well as some of the great Bantu epics.
Harrap published a number of similar titles during the same time period, in various types of bindings (although few are quite as pretty as the core series). I’ve listed a few of these related books below for those interested.
- The Book of Epic Heroes – Amy Cruse. Harrap, 1927. Check availability at Abes | eBay