The Stunning Purnell Myths & Legends Series
This series of five myth, legend and folklore collections from the 1960s is one of the most treasured in my collection. The titles include:
- Tales of the Greeks and Trojans (1963)
- Myths of Many Lands (1965)
- Folk Tales of the World (1966)
- Sir Lancelot of the Lake (1966)
- Jason and the Golden Fleece (1968)
The stories were written based on various mythologies by Roger Lancelyn Green and the accompanying illustrations are by the talented twin illustrators Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone (who are very well known for their fairy tale illustrations).
Roger was an English academic and children’s author, who was also part of the infamous Inklings literary discussion group – a group of writers that met regularly at Oxford university in the 1930s and 1940s to invite comment on their unfinished books. The members believed in the importance of narrative and encouraged their members to write fantasy, and the group also included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis and other luminaries. Roger first wrote the short stories that appear in these books for a British weekly educational children’s magazine called Finding Out, where they appeared in serialised form in the late 1960s.
The illustrations by the Grahame Johnstone twins are stunning, and they are really the reason the books have become so collectible today. Janet and Anne were inseparable twin artists who lived and worked together on all their commissions until Janet’s tragic death in 1979, after which Anne carried on by herself for another nineteen years. They were among the most sought-after children’s illustrators in Britain during that time and despite the work being commissioned for a children’s magazine, all of their illustrations were based on intensive research into the styles in which the stories were originally represented: from accurate period costumes for the world folktales, to pottery designs in the Greek myths, and the use of medieval tapestries and illuminated manuscripts that inspired their work on Arthurian legend. The illustrations are memorable enough that people spend decades trying to find them to relive countless hours poring over them as children.
Thus it is really unfortunate that the books are so difficult to find and expensive to purchase. I have done quite a detailed flip-through in the video below for those of you who may never have a chance to own them for your own libraries, and added a few pictures from each of the books for closer review as well. So brew a tea, grab a bikkie, and get ready to use the pause button to study your favourite pieces. Enjoy!
Where to find them
Unfortunately, these books are incredibly difficult to track down (I know, I’m so sorry!). Dust jackets are scarce and definitely command an additional premium, and if you see a copy of Greeks and Trojans or Jason and the Golden Fleece just grab it whatever the condition – you can always trade up later, and I go many years without even seeing a single copy of either of these come up for sale. Folk Tales of the World was probably printed in the highest numbers, but really, it is still pretty uncommon. I’ve also included below as a bonus the slightly more easy to find Tales of Ancient Greece, which is not part of this series but has similar contents and illustrations, and is also a beautiful title.
All that said, I’ve got links below for you to try your luck – I do hope you’re successful in the hunt, just be prepared for it to take a really long time. The wait will be worth it.
Tales of the Greeks and Trojans
Tales of the Greeks and Trojans (1963)
A gorgeously illustrated and engagingly told collection of stories about Ancient Greece. This is usually the hardest book in the series to find, likely because it was the first one printed so had a lower print run.
Contents: Tales of Troy; The Apple of Discord; The Judgment of Paris; Helen of Sparta; The Madness of Odysseus; The Boy Achilles; The Story of Telephus; Iphigenia at Aulis; The Unhappy Island; The Story of Potesilaus; The Anger of Achilles; The Horses of Rhesus; The Death of Hector; Achilles and Polyxena; The Wounded Archer; The Death of Paris; The Luck of Troy; The Wooden Horse; The Night of Doom; The Fall of Troy; The Return of the Heroes; How Agamemnon Came Home; Orestes and the Furies; Iphigenia in Tauris; Helen in Egypt; Odysseus and the Lotus-Eaters; The One-Eyed Giant; Winds and Ogres; Circe the Enchantress; Scylla and Charybdis; Odysseus and the Nymph; The Princess Nausicaa; Penelope and her Suitors; The End of Odysseus.
Myths of Many Lands
Myths from Many Lands (1965)
A great collection of myths from around the world with – of course – amazing illustrations to accompany them.
Contents: The King’s Dream (Russia); The Clever Weaver (Armenia); The Wizard’s Apprentice (Austria); The Fated Marriage (Crete); Snowflake (Czechoslovakia); The Contrary Fairy (Canada); The Troll’s Share (Denmark); The First Cat (Iceland); The Goblin Pony (France); The Magician’s Gifts (Finland); The Lucky Merchant (Ancient Greece); The Jackal (Basutoland); The Wishes (Hungary); The Puma and the Monkey (Brazil); The Spindle, Shuttle and Needle (Germany); The Child Magician (Egypt); The Boy Who Found Fear (Turkey); The Lucky Man (Greece); The Flood (American); The Thief and the Dragon (Albania); The Stone Fire-Eater (Korea); The Scraggy Old Couple (The Congo); The Enchanted Watch (Belgium); The Sprig of Rosemary (Catalonia); The Rolling Stone (Cornwall); Errua and the Giant (Spain); The Magic Turtle (Fiji); The Crow and the Daylight (Alaska); The Men of Gotham (England); Byamee and the Kurreahs (Australia); The Snake Princess (Gipsy); The White Snake Lady (China); Tricking the Stalos (Lapland); The Curious Young Man (Estonia); The Little Grey Man(Lithuania); Udea and her Brothers (Libya).
Folk Tales of the World
Folk Tales of the World (1966)
A second collection of myths and folklore from around the world.
Contents: The Fairy Chapman (Isle of Man); The fox and the cat (Siberia); Why the sea is salt (Norway); Isuro the rabbit (Rhodesia); The King of Underland (Poland); Peerifool (Orkney); The Foolish Weaver (India); The Mermaid Wife (Shetlands); The Pumpkin Tree (West Indies); The Voice (Rumania); The Trick (Malaysia); The Story of the Basilisk (Mexico); The Two Neighbours (Tibet); Androcles and the Lion (Rome); The Shadow (American Indian); How the Turtle Got His Shell (New Guinea); The Tanuki (Japan); Prince Lindorm (Sweden); The Simpleton (Serbia); Anu Nowas and his Wife (Tunisia); The Crock of Gold (Ireland); Kate Crackernuts (Scotland); Ukcombekcansini (Zulu); The Fairy Spinner (Portugal); Two Bags Full (Russia); The Turtle’s Bride (Polynesia); The Stubborn Man (Switzerland); The Golden Lion (Sicily); Ifara and the Monster (Madagascar); The Coward (Sudan); The Simple Astrologer (Italy); The Ungrateful Snake (Thrace); The Tiny Boy (Persia); Hassebu (Zanzibar); Hula and the Fishing Net (New Zealand); The Fairy of the Lake (Wales).
Sir Lancelot of the Lake
Sir Lancelot of the Lake (1966)
A beautifully illustrated collection of Arthurian tales.
Contents: King Arthur’s Court; The Lady of the Lake; Knight’s Childhood; The Magic Stag; The Testing of Lancelot; The Castle of Death; Lancelot Sets Out for the Court; The Adventure of the Wounded Knight; The First Quest of Sir Lancelot; The Lady of the Pavilion; The Lady of Nohaut; The Dolorous Gard; The Battle for Dolorous Gard; The Chapel Perilous; The False Sir Kay; How Meleagant Stole The Queen; The Knight of The Cart; The Enchanted Land of Gorre; The Princess and the Dragon; The Castle of the Holy Grail; The False Guinevere; The Madness of Sir Lancelot; The Quest for Sir Lancelot; The Siege Perilous; The Coming of the Holy Grail; The Quest of the Holy Grail; The Mysterious Chapel; The Enchanted Ship; In the Grail Castle; The Ending of the Quest; The Healing of Sir Urry; Sir Mordred’s Plot; How Lancelot Rescued The Queen; The War Against Sir Lancelot; The Passing of Arthur; The Death of Sir Lancelot.
Jason and the Golden Fleece
Jason and the Golden Fleece (1968)
The classic Greek myth, a story of betrayal and vengeance.
Contents: Athamas and the Cloud Fairy; Themisto’s Revenge; The Wicked Stepmother; The Ram With the Fleece of Gold; The Birth of Jason; How Jason Rescued the Son of Phrixus; The Crossing of the Anaurus; The Man With One Sandal; The Building of the Argo; The Song of Orpheus; The Women of Lemnos; King Cyzicus; Hylas and the Nymphs; Amycus the Boxer; Phineus and the Harpies; The Clashing Rocks; Melas and the Birds of Ares; Aeetes the Wizard King; Medea the Witch; The Brazen-Footed Bulls; The Golden Fleece; The Escape from Colchis; The Death of Absyrtus; The Land Beyond the North; The Garden of the Hesperides; Circe the Enchantress; Escape to Corcyra; The Coming of the Colchians; The Desert Nymphs of Libya; The Brass Man of Crete; The Return of the Argonauts; The Capture of Iolcos; The Death of Pelias; Exiles in Corinth; The Death of Jason; The Last Adventures of Medea.
Bonus: Tales of Ancient Greece
Tales of Ancient Greece by Mae Broadley
Because the series above is so difficult to find, I am including another volume of myths illustrated by the twins that is a bit more common (and affordable). This book is smaller than the others (it’s not part of the series) and the writing is aimed at a slightly younger audience, but the illustrations are as vivid, glorious and engaging as ever.
Contents: In the Beginning; Pandora’s Box; Phaethon and the Chariot of the Sun; The Story of Echo and Narcissus; Orpheus and the Underworld; The Men Who Flew Like Birds; The Sword of Damocles; Jason and the Golden Fleece.