Andrew Lang and the original fairy books
Andrew Lang was a Scots poet, novelist and literary critic. One of the greatest ironies of his life is that although he wrote for a living, and published many books of fiction and poetry, as well as articles on anthropology and history, he is best known for the books he did not write – specifically the 12 collected works known as Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Books. The Original Fairy Books were put together by Lang at the end of the 19th century, and each volume gathers together classic tales of wonder from around the world. Lang was actually the editor of these books, not the author. He made most of the selections of which tales would appear in the books, but the translation and retelling of the stories was in fact carried out by his wife and other translators. English fairy tales were very rare at the time of their publication – only a few collections existed – and so the books were very influential. Not only did these collections mark the first time many of the stories had appeared in English, but they also contributed to an enormous increase in the popularity of fairy tales forming part of children’s literature.
❦ The beautiful decorative covers that inspired this series can be seen on the Original Fairy Books illustrated bibliography page.
❦ If you click on the covers below, you can see them in high definition. I’ve also linked the illustrators have been linked to their social media or webpages if I have them, so you can enjoy even more of their wonderful work.
The Folio Society Fairy books
The Folio Society Rainbow Fairy collection is absolutely spectacular, and each book contains illustrations by a different artist. The books are really designed more for adult collectors than children, due to their hefty size and weight. Each volume contains 12 full-page colour illustrations plus a frontispiece, as well as additional pen and ink embellishments throughout. The illustrations are gorgeous, but not profuse – in many volumes you can go more than 30 pages of text before you come across an illustration. But what illustrations! The Folio Society commissioned some of the most outstanding contemporary illustrators around the world for this series, as well as inviting well-known authors to write new introductions for each volume, and you won’t find them anywhere else. The books are bound in buckram cloth and blocked in 4 coloured foils with stunning designs by the illustrators on the cover and spine. Each comes in a cardboard slipcase of either matching or contrasting colour. The books are set in Founder’s Caslon – which is appropriate, since this is the oldest living typeface – and each volume features beautiful printed endpapers, as well as colour staining of the page tops on the book block.
Will the Folio Society reprint their fairy book collection? (And why are some of them so expensive?)
The first four books to be published in the series (Blue, Red, Green and Pink) were offered by FS as a joining set, so they are usually the cheapest second-hand. The final three books to be published (Orange, Olive and Lilac) were printed in much smaller numbers than the others, and consequently are quite expensive in the second hand market. People often ask if the series will be reprinted – the Folio Society have said in social media that it’s a ‘definite maybe’. Although they commissioned the artwork and the text is out of copyright, apparently a change in computer systems resulted in the loss of the original files. This means that reprinting them would require resetting the text, so it is rather more involved than a normal reprint.
List of Books in the Folio Society Rainbow Fairy Book Collection
The Blue Fairy Book
About the book: The Blue Fairy Book was first published by Andrew Lang in 1889, and the Folio Society in 2003. This volume includes some of the most well-known tales, with seven from the Brothers Grimm, five from the French writer Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy who originated the term ‘fairy tale’, three from the Arabian Nights, and four Norwegian fairytales, among other sources. ‘Old stories’, Lang calls them in his preface, ‘that have pleased so many generations’. It includes Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. This volume actually includes a retelling by Lang himself, “The Terrible Head” which is based on the Greek myth of Perseus and the Gorgon.
The book is introduced by author Joan Aiken, and illustrated by Canadian treasure Charles van Sandwyk. Charles’ illustrations bring to mind the most magical of the golden age of illustrations, with dragons and fair maidens and sneaky goblins in the woods.
The tales: The Bronze Ring; Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess; East of the Sun and West of the Moon; The Yellow Dwarf; Little Red Riding Hood; The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood; Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper; Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp; The Tale of a Youth Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was; Rumpelstiltskin; Beauty and the Beast; The Master Maid; Why the Sea Is Salt; The Master Cat or Puss in Boots; Felicia and the Pot of Pinks; The White Cat; The Water-lily/The Gold-spinners; The Terrible Head; The Story of Pretty Goldilocks; The History of Whittington; The Wonderful Sheep; Little Thumb; The Forty Thieves; Hansel and Gretel; Snow-White and Rose-Red; The Goose-girl; Toads and Diamonds; Prince Darling; Blue Beard; Trusty John; The Brave Little Tailor; A Voyage to Lilliput; The Princess on the Glass Hill; The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou; The History of Jack the Giant-killer; The Black Bull of Norroway; The Red Etin.Back in prin
The Red Fairy Book
About the book: The Red Fairy Book first appeared at Christmas in 1890. Sources include French, Russian, Danish, and Romanian tales as well as Norse mythology, and it includes classics like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and Rapunzel, as well as lesser-known stories like ‘The True History of Little Goldenhood’ which is a twist on the traditional Red Riding Hood tale.
The book is introduced by folklorist Marina Warner, and illustrated by British and Thai illustrator Niroot, or Natee, Puttapipat. Natee’s drawings are beautifully detailed and, drawing from the Golden age illustrators, Chinese painting and Persian miniatures, they evoke the magic of handsome princes, beautiful maidens, and a glorious hen laying a golden egg.
The tales: The Twelve Dancing Princesses; The Princess Mayblossom; Soria Moria Castle; The Death of Koschei the Deathless; The Black Thief and Knight of the Glen; The Master Thief; Brother and Sister; Princess Rosette; The Enchanted Pig; The Norka; The Wonderful Birch; Jack and the Beanstalk; The Little Good Mouse; Graciosa and Percinet; The Three Princesses of Whiteland; The Voice of Death; The Six Sillies; Kari Woodengown; Drakestail; The Ratcatcher; The True History of Little Goldenhood; The Golden Branch; The Three Dwarfs; Dapplegrim; The Enchanted Canary; The Twelve Brothers; Rapunzel; The Nettle Spinner; Farmer Weatherbeard; Mother Holle; Minnikin; Bushy Bride; Snowdrop; The Golden Goose; The Seven Foals; The Marvellous Musician; The Story of Sigurd.
The Green Fairy Book
About the book: The Green Fairy Book was first published in 1892, and 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 many subsequent books. This volume contains many stories from Spanish and Chinese traditions as well as tales from Madame D’Aulnoy and others.
The book is introduced by fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, and illustrated by South American artist Julian de Narvaez with his evocative watercolours that bridge traditional illustration and contemporary graphics.
The tales: The Blue Bird; The Half-Chick; The Story of Caliph Stork; The Enchanted Watch; Rosanella; Sylvain and Jocosa; Fairy Gifts; Prince Narcissus and the Princess Potentilla; Prince Featherhead and the Princess Celandine; The Three Little Pigs; Heart of Ice; The Enchanted Ring; The Snuff-box; The Golden Blackbird; The Little Soldier; The Magic Swan; The Dirty Shepherdess; The Enchanted Snake; The Biter Bit; King Kojata; Prince Fickle and Fair Helena; Puddocky; The Story of Hok Lee and the Dwarfs; The Story of the Three Bears; Prince Vivien and the Princess Placida; Little One-eye, Little Two-eyes, and Little Three-eyes; Jorinde and Joringel; Allerleirauh (or, the Many-furred Creature); The Twelve Huntsmen; Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle; The Crystal Coffin; The Three Snake-leaves; The Riddle; Jack my Hedgehog; The Golden Lads; The White Snake; The Story of a Clever Tailor; The Golden Mermaid; The War of the Wolf and the Fox; The Story of the Fisherman and his Wife; The Three Musicians; The Three Dogs.
The Yellow Fairy Book
About the book: The Yellow Fairy Book was first published in 1894 and contains 48 tales from all over the world. It features many tales from Hans Christian Andersen, as well as tales from Russia, Hungary, Iceland and America.
The book is introduced by fairy tale expert Maria Tatar, and illustrated by London artist Danuta Mayer. Danuta’s pen and ink drawings, alongside her arresting watercolour illustrations, highlight how many animals feature prominently in the fairy tale world.
The tales: The Cat and the Mouse in Partnership; The Six Swans; The Dragon of the North; Story of the Emperor’s New Clothes; The Golden Crab; The Iron Stove; The Dragon and his Grandmother; The Donkey Cabbage; The Little Green Frog; The Seven-headed Serpent; The Grateful Beasts; The Giants and the Herd-boy; The Invisible Prince; The Crow; How Six Men Travelled Through the Wide World; The Wizard King; The Nixy; The Glass Mountain; Alphege, or the Green Monkey; Fairer-than-a-Fairy; The Three Brothers; The Boy and the Wolves, or the Broken Promise; The Glass Axe; The Dead Wife; In the Land of Souls; The White Duck; The Witch and Her Servants; The Magic Ring; The Flower Queen’s Daughter; The Flying Ship; The Snow-daughter and the Fire-son; The Story of King Frost; The Death of the Sun-hero; The Witch; The Hazel-nut Child; The Story of Big Klaus and Little Klaus; Prince Ring; The Swineherd; How to tell a True Princess; The Blue Mountains; The Tinder-box; The Witch in the Stone Boat; Thumbelina; The Nightingale; Hermod and Hadvor; The Steadfast Tin-soldier; Blockhead Hans; A Story about a Darning-needle.
The Pink Fairy Book
About the book: The Pink Fairy Book was first published in 1897, and it contains 41 Japanese, Scandinavian, and Sicilian tales.
The book is introduced by author A. S. Byatt, and illustrated by London illustrator Debra McFarlane. In Debra’s whimsical and delicate artworks, fairies flit mischievously through the air, woodland animals prick up their ears and beautiful maidens catch the eyes of handsome boys.
The Tales: The Cat’s Elopement; How the Dragon was Tricked; The Goblin and the Grocer; The House in the Wood; Uraschimataro and the Turtle; The Slaying of the Tanuki; The Flying Trunk; The Snow Man; The Shirt-Collar; The Princess in the Chest; The Three Brothers; The Snow-queen; The Fir-Tree; Hans, the Mermaid’s Son; Peter Bull; The Bird ‘Grip’; Snowflake; I know what I have learned; The Cunning Shoemaker; The King who would have a Beautiful Wife; Catherine and her Destiny; How the Hermit helped to win the King’s Daughter; The Water of Life; The Wounded Lion; The Man without a Heart; The Two Brothers; Master and Pupil; The Golden Lion; The Sprig of Rosemary; The White Dove; The Troll’s Daughter; Esben and the Witch; Princess Minon-Minette; Maiden Bright-eye; The Merry Wives; King Lindworm; The Jackal, the Dove, and the Panther; The Little Hare; The Sparrow with the Slit Tongue; The Story of Ciccu; Don Giovanni de la Fortuna.
The Grey Fairy Book
About the book: The Grey Fairy Book was published in 1900, and it contains 35 stories, many from oral traditions, and others from French, German and Italian collections. The introduction is by fairy-tale author Kate Bernheimer, in which she describes her first encounters with Andrew Lang’s fairy books.
The illustrations are by Chicago artist Lauren Nassef, who has created thirteen full-page colour plates, an illustrated frontispiece and ten large tailpieces, as well as a beautiful endpaper design inspired by the tale of Princess Mutinosa in ‘An Impossible Enchantment’.
The tales: Donkey Skin, The Goblin Pony, An Impossible Enchantment, The Story of Dschemil and Dachemila, Janni and the Draken, The Partnership of the Thief and the Liar, Fortunatus and his Purse, The Goat-faced Girl, What came of picking Flowers, The Story of Bensurdatu, The Magician’s Horse, The Little Gray Man, Herr Lazarus and the Draken, The Story of the Queen of the Flowery Isles, Udea and her Seven Brothers, The White Wolf, Mohammed with the Magic Finger, Bobino, The Dog and the Sparrow, The Story of the Three Sons of Hali, The Story of the Fair Circassians, The Jackal and the Spring, The Bear, The Sunchild, The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch, Laughing Eye and Weeping Eye, or the Limping Fox, The Unlooked for Prince, The Simpleton, The Street Musicians, The Twin Brothers, Cannetella, The Ogre, A Fairy’s Blunder, Long, Broad, and Quickeye, Prunella
The Violet Fairy Book
About the book: The Violet Fairy Book was first published in 1901, and Romania, Japan, Serbia, Lithuania, Africa, Portugal, and Russia are among the sources of these 35 stories that tell of a haunted forest, chests of gold coins, a magical dog, and a man who outwits a dragon.
The book is introduced by Alison Lurie, who describes in her introduction how the dual nature of Andrew Lang’s fairy tale collections makes them so valuable: they are at once a serious collection of authentic folk stories from around the world; and a delightful collection of stories that have been carefully translated and edited with children in mind. This book is illustrated by British artist Bob Venables – the cover illustration Is for the Serbian folk tale ‘The Finest Liar in the World’.
The tales: A Tale Of the Tontlawald; The Finest Liar in the World; The Story of Three Wonderful Beggars; Schippeitaro; The Three Princes and their Beasts; The Goat’s Ears of the Emperor Trojan; The Nine Pea-hens and the Golden Apples; The Lute Player; The Grateful Prince; The Child who came from an Egg; Stan Bolovan; The Two Frogs; 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; The Headless Dwarfs; The Young Man Who Would Have His Eyes Opened; The Boys with the Golden Stars; The Frog; The Princess Who Was Hidden Underground; The Girl Who Pretended to be a Boy; The Story of Halfman; The Prince Who Wanted to See the World; Virgilius the Sorcerer; Mogarzea and his Son.
The Crimson Fairy Book
About the book: The Crimson Fairy Book was originally published in 1903, and it has 36 stories originating in Hungary, Russia, Finland, Iceland, Tunisia, the Baltic, and elsewhere. Alongside these fantastical tales, The Crimson Fairy Book contains delightful animal stories: in ‘The Colony of Cats’, a little girl is adopted by a feline household; while ‘The Six Hungry Beasts’ explains why foxes have white tips on their tails.
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy introduces, while Tim Stevens’s vibrant illustrations capture the magic of winged chimeras, valiant princes and fearsome dragons.
The tales: Lovely Ilonka; Lucky Luck; The Hairy Man; To Your Good Health!; The Story of the Seven Simons; The Language of Beasts; The Boy Who Could Keep a Secret; The Prince and the Dragon; Little Wildrose; Tiidu the Piper; Paperarello; The Gifts of the Magician; The Strong Prince; The Treasure Seeker; The Cottager and his Cat; The Prince Who Would Seek Immortality; The Stone-cutter; The Gold-bearded Man; Tritill, Litill, and the Birds; The Three Robes; The Six Hungry Beasts; How the Beggar Boy turned into Count Piro; The Rogue and the Herdsman; Eisenkopf; The Death of Abu Nowas and of his Wife; Motikatika; Niels and the Giants; Shepherd Paul; How the Wicked Tanuki was Punished; The Crab and the Monkey; The Horse Gullfaxi and the Sword Gunnfoder; The Story of the Sham Prince, or the Ambitious Tailor; The Colony of Cats; How to find out a True Friend; Clever Maria; The Magic Kettle.
The Brown Fairy Book
About the book: The Brown Fairy Book, first published in 1904, contains stories from the American Indians, Australian Aboriginals and African Kaffirs, and from Persia, Lapland, Brazil, and India. These far-flung tales all obey the time-honoured rules of fairyland: in the Persian story ‘What the Rose did to the Cypress’, a prince must guess a riddle to win his princess’s hand in marriage, and in the Scandinavian tale ‘The Fox and the Lapp’, a wily fox hitches a ride on a merchant’s sledge and plays tricks on everyone he meets.
The book is introduced by British psychotherapist and essayist Adam Phillips. The watercolours and pen and ink drawings created by Omar Rayyan are especially charming. He is an American artist, but the gorgeous colouring in his art is clearly influenced by exquisite Persian miniature painting. There is also a sly sense of humour in many of his illustrations, which makes the perfect accompaniment to such stories as ‘The Enchanted Head’ or ‘Father Grumbler’.
The tales: What the Rose did to the Cypress; Ball-Carrier and the Bad One; How Ball-Carrier finished his Task; The Bunyip; Father Grumbler; The Story of the Yara; The Cunning Hare; The Turtle and his Bride; How Geirald the Coward was Punished; Habogi; How the Little Brother set Free his Big Brothers; The Sacred Milk of Koumongoe; The Wicked Wolverine; The Husband of the Rat’s Daughter; The Mermaid and the Boy; Pivi and Kabo; The Elf Maiden; How Some Wild Animals became Tame Ones; Fortune and the Wood-Cutter; The Enchanted Head; The Sister of the Sun; The Prince and the Three Fates; The Fox and the Lapp; Kisa the Cat; The Lion and the Cat; Which was the Foolishest?; Asmund and Signy; Rubezahl; Story of the King who would be Stronger than Fate; Story of Wali Dad the Simple-hearted; Tale of a Tortoise and of a Mischievous Monkey; The Knights of the Fish.
The Orange Fairy Book
About the book: The Orange Fairy Book was published in 1906, and it includes 33 tales from Jutland, Rhodesia, Uganda, and various European traditions, including the Hans Christian Andersen classic ‘The Ugly Duckling’. This was the last coloured fairy book published by the Folio Society in 2013 and is quite difficult to find second hand.
The introduction is by British novelist Sara Maitland and it is beautifully illustrated by Croatian artist Tomislav Tomić, whose exquisite and intensely detailed renaissance style you might recognise from some editions of the Hogwarts Library Books.
The tales: 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; The Adventures of a Jackal; The Adventures of the Jackal’s Eldest Son; The Adventures of the Younger Son of the Jackal; The Three Treasures of the Giants; The Rover of the Plain; The White Doe; The Girl-Fish; The Owl and the Eagle; The Frog and the Lion Fairy; The Adventures of Covan the Brown-haired; The Princess Bella-Flor; The Bird of Truth; The Mink and the Wolf; Adventures of an Indian Brave; How the Stalos were Tricked; Andras Baive; The White Slipper; The Magic Book.
The Olive Fairy Book
About the book: The Olive Fairy Book was published in 1907 and includes stories from Turkey, India, Denmark, Armenia, the Sudan. In ‘The Satin Surgeon’, a resourceful princess outwits her wicked sister with an artful disguise. Little Maia’s adventures take her high above the Earth, carried by a swallow, while the Green Knight is saved from death by a soup made from snakes. ‘The Story of Little King Loc’ was adapted by Andrew Lang’s wife from L’Abeille, written by the French poet M. Anatole France.
The book is introduced by Jane Yolen, author of over 300 children’s books. Kate Baylay’s exotic Art Deco-inspired illustrations are a captivating accompaniment to the stories. A dragon curls around the balustrades of a beautiful palace, the lovely Dorani flies across a starry sky, the Boy who Found Fear at Last frees a sinking ship from a mischievous sea-maiden. The tales are also interspersed with intricate black-and-white drawings by the artist.
The tales: Madschun; The Blue Parrot; Geirlug The King’s Daughter; The Story of Little King Loc; A Long-Bow Story; Jackal or Tiger?; The Comb and the Collar; The Thanksgiving of the Wazir; Samba the Coward; Kupti and Imani; The Strange Adventures of Little Maia; Diamond Cut Diamond; The Green Knight; The Five Wise Words of the Guru; The Golden-Headed Fish; Dorani; The Satin Surgeon; The Billy Goat and the King; The Story of Zoulvisia; Grasp All, Lose All; The Fate of the Turtle; The Snake Prince; The Prince and the Princess in the Forest; The Clever Weaver; The Boy Who Found Fear At Last; He Wins Who Waits; The Steel Cane; The Punishment of the Fairy Gangana; The Silent Princess
The Lilac Fairy Book
About the book: The Lilac Fairy Book was the last in the original coloured fairy book series and was published in 1910. As usual, it contains stories from around the world, including Portugal, Ireland, Wales. ‘The Brown Bear of Norway’ is actually an Irish tale that echoes ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Another derives from the Welsh Mabinogion and tells an Arthurian legend, ‘The Winning of Olwen’. ‘The Heart of a Monkey’ is a Swahili tale about a wily shark and a courteous but sharp-witted monkey.
As children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean says in her introduction, ‘Spot-the-Greek-Myth’ is just one of the games that can be played by the reader of this intriguing collection. Oakland-based artist Caitlin Hackett has created a series of beguiling illustrations that capture the beauty, danger and drama of Lang’s fairy-tale worlds, from enchanted woods to marvellous underwater kingdoms.
The tales: The Shifty Lad; The False Prince and the True; The Jogi’s Punishment; The Heart of a Monkey; The Fairy Nurse; A Lost Paradise; How Brave Walter Hunted Wolves; The King of the Waterfalls; A French Puck; The Three Crowns; The Story of a Very Bad Boy; The Brown Bear of Norway; Little Lasse; ‘Moti’; The Enchanted Deer; A Fish Story; The Wonderful Tune; The Rich Brother and the Poor Brother; The One-Handed Girl; The Bones of Djulung; The Sea King’s Gift; The Raspberry Worm; The Stones of Plouhinec; The Castle of Kerglas; The Battle of the Birds; The Lady of the Fountain; The Four Gifts; The Groac’h of the Isle of Lok; The Escape of the Mouse; The Believing Husbands; The Hoodie-Crow; The Brownie of the Lake; The Winning of Olwen.
The Nursery Rhyme Book
Bonus! Andrew Lang’s Nursery Rhyme Book is not part of the coloured fairy book series, but the Folio Society have produced it uniform with the series and you should seriously consider getting it as a companion volume if you are collecting the series.
The book contains a selection of 300 familiar and lesser known nursery rhymes that was first published in 1897, halfway through the fairy books. In it you will find old favourites such as ‘Mistress Mary, quite contrary’ and ‘Sing a song of sixpence’, as well as less familiar gems.
The volume is introduced by former Children’s Laureate and acclaimed poet Michael Rosen, who describes nursery rhymes as ‘a gift we pass on to each other’. It features two illustrators – there are over 100 black and white line drawings by L. Leslie Brooke, who was a leading children’s book illustrator of the period – as well as six colour illustrations and a charming binding design by Debra McFarlane, who you may recall from earlier also illustrated the Pink Fairy Book. This volume is bound in metallic cloth, and has metallic stained top edges, and as you can see the binding incorporates the characters from ‘Hey diddle diddle’ and Mother Goose.
Where to get the Folio Fairy Books
Many of these books are unfortunately out of print and you will need to source them second-hand, although there are a couple still available directly from The Folio Society. Links below to places to look for the books, along with their rarity (which will impact on the price you can expect to pay).
Out of Print Books (used copies):
♥ The Pink Fairy Book (Debra McFarlane) – check Abes
♥ The Red Fairy Book (Niroot Puttapipat) – check Abes
♥ The Green Fairy Book (Julian de Narvaez) – check Abes
♥ The Yellow Fairy Book (Danuta Mayer) – check Abes
♥ The Grey Fairy Book (Lauren Nassef) – check Abes (uncommon)
♥ The Violet Fairy Book (Bob Venables) – check Abes (uncommon)
♥ The Crimson Fairy Book (Tim Stevens) – check Abes (uncommon)
♥ The Brown Fairy Book (Omar Rayyan) – check Abes (uncommon)
♥ The Orange Fairy Book (Tomislav Tomić) – check Abes (rare)
♥ The Olive Fairy Book (Kate Baylay) – check Abes (rare)
♥ The Lilac Fairy Book (Caitlin Hackett) – check Abes (rare)