The Blue Fairy Book (1889)
edited by Andrew Lang
136009The Blue Fairy Book1889











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Too late they come, too late for you,
These old friends that are ever new,
Enchanted in our volume blue,

For you ere now have wandered o’er
A world of tales untold of yore,
And learned the later fairy-lore!

Nay, as within her briery brake
The Sleeping Beauty did awake,
Old tales may rouse them for your sake,

And you once more may voyage through
The forests that of old we knew,
The fairy forests deep in dew,

Where you, resuming childish things,
Shall listen when the Blue Bird sings,
And sit at feast with fairy Kings,

And taste their wine, ere all be done,
And face more welcome shall be none
Among the guests of Oberon.

Ay, of that feast shall tales be told,
The marvels of that world of gold,
To children young, when you are old.

When you are old! Ah, dateless ‘when,’
For youth shall perish among men,
And Spring herself be ancient then!


The Tales in this volume are intended for children, who will like, it is hoped, the old stories that have pleased so many generations.

The tales of Perrault are printed from the old English version of the eighteenth century.

The stories from the Cabinet des Fées and from Madame d’Aulnoy are translated, or rather adapted, by Miss Minnie Wright, who has also, by M. Henri Carnoy’s kind permission, rendered ‘The Bronze Ring’ from his Traditions Populaires de l’Asie Mineure (Maisonneuve, Paris, 1889).

The stories from Grimm are translated by Miss May Sellar; another from the German by Miss Sylvia Hunt; the Norse tales are a version by Mrs. Alfred Hunt; ‘The Terrible Head’ is adapted from Apollodorus, Simonides, and Pindar by the Editor; Miss Violet Hunt condensed ‘Aladdin’; Miss May Kendall did the same for Gulliver’s Travels; ‘The Fairy Paribanou’ is abridged from the old English translation of Galland.

Messrs. Chambers have kindly allowed us to reprint ‘The Red Etin’ and ‘The Black Bull of Norroway’ from Mr. Robert ChambersPopular Traditions of Scotland.

Dick Whittington’ is from the chap book edited by Mr. Gomme and Mr. Wheatley for the Villon Society; ‘Jack the Giant-Killer’ is from a chap book, but a good version of this old favourite is hard to procure.


The Bronze Ring 1
Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess 12
East of the Sun and West of the Moon 19
The Yellow Dwarf 30
Little Red Riding-hood 51
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood 54
Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper 64
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp 72
The Tale of a Youth who Set out to Learn what Fear was 86
Rumpelstiltzkin 96
Beauty and the Beast 100
The Master-maid 120
Why the Sea is Salt 136
The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots 141
Felicia and the Pot of Pinks 148
The White Cat 157
The Water-lily. The Gold-spinners 174
The Terrible Head 182
The Story of Pretty Goldilocks 193
The History of Whittington 206
The Wonderful Sheep 214
Little Thumb 231
The Forty Thieves 242
Hansel and Grettel 251
Snow-white and Rose-red 259
The Goose-girl 266
Toads and Diamonds 274
Prince Darling 278
Blue Beard 290
Trusty John 296
The Brave Little Tailor 304
A Voyage to Lilliput 313
The Princess on the Glass Hill 332
The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou 342
The History of Jack the Giant-killer 374
The Black Bull of Norroway 380
The Red Etin 385


Prince Darling Transformed Into the Monster Frontispiece
The Old Jew Shows the Fishes to the Princess To face page 8
The King of the Gold Mines encounters the Four-and-Twenty Maidens To face page 48
Cinderella’s Flight To face page 70
The Prince’s Bride To face page 172
The Gold-spinners To face page 178
‘Open, Sesame!’ To face page 242
The Fountain of Lions To face page 366


The taste of the world, which has veered so often, is constant enough to fairy tales. The children to whom and for whom they are told represent the young age of man. They are true to his early loves, they have his unblunted edge of belief, and his fresh appetite for marvels. The instinct of economy so works that we are still repeating to the boys and girls of each generation the stories that were old before Homer sang, and the adventures that have wandered, like the wandering Psyche, over all the world. We may alter now and again the arrangement of incidents, but these always remain essentially the same, and of all the combinations into which they can be fitted, the oldest combinations are still the favourites.

These truisms have been for some time recognised even by Science, and the study of nursery tales, of their wanderings, their antiquity, their origin, has long been a diversion of the learned. This, however, is not the place to repeat the familiar antiquarian theories, nor to attempt any new variety of conjecture. Even a child (this preface is not meant for children) must recognise, as he turns the pages of the Blue Fairy Book, that the same adventures and something like the same plots meet him in stories translated from different languages. The Scotch ‘Black Bull of Norroway,’ for example, must remind the very youngest reader of ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon,’ a tale from the Norse. Both, again, have manifest resemblances to ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and every classical student has the fable of ‘Eros and Psyche’ brought back to his memory, while every anthropologist recollects a similar Märchen among Kaffirs and Bassutos. These resemblances and analogies recur on every page. Our ‘Bronze Ring,’ from the Levant, with the mice which make the Jew sneeze by tickling his nose, has a variant among Mongolian tribes. The Finns, the Santhals, the Kaffirs have a Cinderella of their own, like the Scotch and the Celts. Parts of ‘Hop o’ my Thumb’ (‘The Little Thumb’) are current in Tartary; the incident of the changed crowns and the murder by the ogre of his own children is part of that ancient Minyan legend of Athamas, Phrixus, and Hellê. The tale of Jason was old when the ‘Odyssey’ was composed—old and ‘familiar’ (like the ship Argo) ‘to all men.’ Here we have a shadow of its main events in ‘The Master Maid,’ and there are other echoes in Samoa, and among the red men of the North American continent. The papyri of the second Rameses contain fairy tales recognisably like ours; there is no speech nor land where their voice is not heard.

To explain these curious correspondences, these echoes out of some far-off time, is the object of the science of the lower mythology—call it Folk-Lore, or by what name we will. But that science does not at all exhaust the interest of nursery stories. It struggles with their history, asks—Have they come from a common source? have they been independently invented in various centres? have mankind inherited them all from faraway first ancestors? or have they been scattered like the seeds of flowers in the course of commerce, slavery, marriage with strange wives, and war? To answer, or at least to put, these questions is the business of science, of that science which is concerned with origins, popular antiquities, the earlier developments of human thought, life, and art. We shall not say over again here what we have already repeated, perhaps too frequently, concerning these problems.[1]

They are problems of science, or of a study with scientific aims, rather than of literary criticism. Perhaps it seems almost as cruel to apply the methods of literary criticism as of science to Nursery Tales. He who would enter into the Kingdom of Faery should have the heart of a little child, if he is to be happy and at home in that enchanted realm. But I trust that one may have studied fairy tales both scientifically and in a literary way, without losing the heart of childhood, as far as those best of childish things are concerned. May one be forgiven the egotism of confessing, that in the reading and arranging of these old wives’ fables, one has felt perhaps as much pleasure as the child who reads them, or hears them, for the first time? Children, as we know, like to hear a tale often, and always insist that it shall be told in the same way.

Decies repetita placebit!

Blue Beard,’ that little tragic end dramatic masterpiece, moves me yet; I still tremble for Puss in Boots when the ogre turns into a lion; and still one’s heart goes with the girl who seeks her lost and enchanted lover, and wins him again in the third night of watching and of tears. This may not seem a taste to be proud of, but it is a taste to be grateful for, like the love of any other thing that is old and plain, and dallies with the simplicity of love.

‘They all went to bed again, and the damsel began singing as before—

Seven lang years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
The bluidy shirt I wrang for thee,
And wilt thou not wauken and turn to me?’

They will not waken and turn to us, our lost loves, our lost chances, not for all our service, all our singing, not for all our waiting seven or twice seven long years. But, in the fairy tale, he heard, and he turned to her. ‘And she telled him a’ that had befa’en her, and he telled her a’ that had happened to him.’ Where have we heard these simple words before, and known the long lost, the long divided, the reunited hearts, brought ‘to the rites of their ancient bed,’ and telling each other all the story of their sorrow? It is at the close of the ‘Odyssey,’ and Homer is the story-teller.

By private experience, then, one is led to hope and believe that much reading of nursery stories, even through the microscope of science and the spectacles of literature, need not make one incapable of relishing the old and friendly narratives. We do not forget our old nurse, the Märchen. If any one differs, it is easy for him to pass over these few pages, only placed in front of a limited edition of the Blue Fairy Book, only meant for grown-up people, and never for children. But there may be readers who will care to hear a little about the literary sources whence our tales come, and to know how far they are truly traditional, how far the art of later times has altered or embellished the original data.

To begin with, I doubt if any of our tales are absolutely pure from literary handling, absolutely set down as they drop from the lips of tradition. The Grimms, for example, did not treat their matter sentimentally, as Hans Christian Andersen did, nor in a light courtly way, aiming at an audience of great ladies, as Madame d’Aulnoy and Madame Le Prince de Beaumont did. But one can hardly help suspecting a literary touch in ‘The Boy who set out to learn shivering.’ Some nameless Hoffmann has put his hand to that startling and amusing tale, so much better than Mrs. Radcliffe, where Mrs. Radcliffe is at her best. That dead body of a kinsman so strangely coming on the scene, the vampire-like malignity of the corpse, the black cats with their ghastly game at cards, are ‘ugsome’ incidents, as the story of the ‘Red Etin’ says, and out of the way of true popular tradition. Again, the house of sugar-plums in ‘Hansel and Grettel’ is clearly modern, perhaps the fancy of some educated nurse; while the ogress who fattens children is old in legend—Zulus and Tartars know her—and is a part of history too, if we may credit a traveller’s tale in Pinkerton, about the cannibal folk near Suakin. Even in the ‘Red Etin’ the verses,

The Red Etin of Ireland
He lives in Ballygan,

are only in part things of tradition. The middle verse is a portion of the chant in an old game of Scotch children, the application to the Red Etin has some modest literary origin. It were superfiuous to add that the stories from the Arabian Nights (‘Aladdin,’ ‘The Forty Thieves,’ ‘The Fairy Paribanou’) have dwindled into their present condition from a literary form. The originals may be found by English readers in Sir Richard Burton’s literal translation. As rendered there, the Märchen have been modified and amplified to suit Oriental literary taste, which has moments of cruelty and lust, as well as hours of florid tedium. For general readers the best Arabian Nights will always be, not Mr. Lane’s, not Mr. John Payne’s, not Sir Richard Burton’s, but the old English translation of Galland’s old adaptation. ‘The Fairy Paribanou,’ in this book, is merely an abridgment of the English rendering of Galland; but, abridged as it is, it may seem long, and the translator’s manner may seem odd to children. In Miss Violet Hunt’s versions of ‘Aladdin,’ and ‘The Forty Thieves,’ the tastes of children are more carefully studied, and the true and literary forms of the tales have thus dwindled down into something probably more like the Märchen which must have been their source. These processes have constantly been going on in the course of time. The old tradition is, as a rule, the original form, that is worked up into literature, as in Homer, where the ‘Odyssey’ is based on a string of different Märchen, or in the Jason legend. But literature, again, descends occasionally among the people, as Oriental stories found their way into medieval sermons, and so fragments of epic, or novel, or even of history, become Märchen once more. To take another example, the Perseus epic legend is a tissue of fairy tales, though Pindar made it into an ode, and Simonides furnished Danae with a song. In this volume (‘The Terrible Head’) I have tried to reconstruct the original nursery tale, chiefly by dropping the local and personal names, which, doubtless, were added to an old impersonal and unlocated story by the Greeks in Argos and Seriphos. The action of the gods, too, was probably an addition. In the original the hero probably acted like Jack the Giant Killer: ‘he furnished himself with a sword of sharpness, shoes of swiftness, and an invisible coat.’ How did he ‘furnish himself’ with these rare properties? The English chapbook author never thinks of asking, but Greek epic legend made them the gifts of Hermes and Athene. The best English versions of the old Greek fairy tales are, doubtless, Kingsley’s The Heroes, and Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales. But so much turns, in Greek fable, on divine amours, introduced to give the royal Achæan houses a divine descent, that it is never easy to make them intelligible to children.

The old authors who first approached these traditions in a spirit of inquiry, authors like Charles Perrault, were more or less right in saying that most nursery stories had a moral intention. ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ has a moral intention so archaic that it is no longer intelligible except to students. Why is the lassie severed from her lover? Because she broke an ancient and world-wide tabu on the conduct of married people. She saw her husband! In other forms of the tale she calls him by his name, a thing still forbidden to Zulu women. As these old absurd rules of conduct become forgotten, the moral is merely the punishment of disobedience, even when the command is unintelligible. There comes in (as in ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’) the prettier moral of loyalty rewarded and true love invincible. Punishment of disobedient curiosity is the motive of ‘Blue Beard,’ and of all the stories about forbidden doors, wells, trees, fruits, and so forth, which, among many races, are interwoven with the myth of ‘The Origin of Death.’ In ‘Cinderella,’ as we have it here, that is as Perrault gave it to the world, goodness, patience, kindness are rewarded. ‘The Fairies’ of Perrault, or ‘Toads and Pearls,’ is a moral tale very wide spread, and is found among Bassutos and Kaffirs. The lesson is one of kindness and politeness and gratitude, as in the numberless tales of grateful beasts, and as in ‘The Bronze Ring.’ But mere adroitness well recompensed is the moral of ‘Tom Thumb,’ and ‘Puss in Boots,’ as we have it here, though a different moral, that of gratitude, is inculcated in the more archaic forms current in Eastern Africa and the Soudan. Meanwhile ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Fairy Paribanou’ are almost non-moral. Why should Aladdin be so lucky, or Prince Ahmed favoured above his brothers? These are caprices of chance, or of love.

This collection, made for the pleasure of children, and without scientific purpose, includes nursery tales which have a purely literary origin. Many of these were the work of ladies in the age when fairy tales were in vogue at the Court of France. It by no means followed that the courtiers had the hearts of children. A French lady said, ‘J’aime les jeux innocents avec ceux qui ne le sont pas.

It was for innocents of this kind that Madame d’Aulnoy, Madame de Villeneuve, Madame Le Prince de Beaumont, and many others wrote. Their stories were often long polite romances; ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ in the original, is as long as Northanger Abbey. But these clever ladies, who furnished so much of the endless Cabinet des Fées, used fairy properties and traditional incidents of metamorphosis, and of talking beasts. They ‘embroidered on them,’ as one of them said, prodigiously; nothing but the tissue into which they stitched their flowers of gold and silver thread was traditional. The long descriptions of royal fétes, the diamonds, the masques, the carriages, the compliments, were pure Louis Quinze. We have not, therefore, translated these tales at full length.

Miss Minnie Wright has reduced the novels of the Cabinet des Fées from the original to the proportion of nursery tales. Of them all, I think ‘The Yellow Dwarf’ is the best. It has become part of the popular treasure; the fairies have stolen it as they stole Tamlane and other mortal children. It has dwelt in fairy land, and tasted fairy bread. ‘The Yellow Dwarf,’ like ‘The Wonderful Sheep,’ ends ill; a thing unknown in true popular fairy tradition. But it has touches of the right supernatural. When the Princess wakens, after her betrothal to the Yellow Dwarf, and hopes it was a dream, and finds on her finger the fatal ring of one red hair, we have a brave touch of horror and of truth. All of us have wakened and struggled with a dim evil memory, and trusted it was a dream, and found, in one form or other, a proof, a shape of that ring of red hair. The Dwarf’s charger, his black cat, and all his wicked yellow tints, his wooden shoes, his little yellow coat, his orange tree, and his cruel satire, are excellently invented. Indeed I hope he will haunt the dreams of no child as he haunted my own. He seems to me like a prophecy of the Revolution, and of all that the ugly men in wooden shoes did to the beautiful princesses. Do you not admire, also, the ingredients of the lion’s cake—millet seed, sugar candy, and crocodile’s eggs? How distinctly one remembers, among the dim thoughts of childhood, the impression made by that mysterious, ominous cake, in the beginning of the tale. What lions they were, too—‘each had two heads, eight feet, and four rows of teeth, and their skins were as hard as turtle shells, and bright red.’ It was an ugsome wilderness, horribly haunted, that lay around that palace of Bellissima’s, where all the princes courted her, and the fires were made of myriad sonnets and madrigals, ‘which crackled and sparkled better than any other sort of wood.’ Madame d’Aulnoy’s ‘White Cat’ is a pleasant foil to this disastrous dwarf of hers; the cat is a pretty kindly fée, and we are almost sorry when she becomes a princess, however beautiful and gracious. ‘She looked very young, and very sad,’ and her voice was the most musical of mews!

Miss Thackeray, who gave us such happy versions of those ‘old friends,’ might have rendered ‘The White Cat’ once more for the older people. ‘Pretty Goldilocks,’ too, is an enchanting lady, and it is not odd that the other princess nearly fell in love with the courtly and melancholy sheep who had been a prince. Never, truly, was sheep more princely than he, though his ill end is contrary to the best fairy traditions.

Even when abridged and stripped of their frippery Madame d’ Aulnoy’s tales hardly compete with Perrault’s masterpieces. Of all the old friends of the Märchen he clung most closely to tradition, giving often the very words of his boy’s nurse, though he added a quip or a gentle piece of satire or a veiled gauloiserie, here and there. I have given his tales of Mother Goose in the words of the oldest English translation I can procure. Though published in 1697, Perrault’s Contes de ma Mère l’Oye do not seem to have been Englished till 1729. A version is advertised in a newspaper of that year, but no copy exists in the British Museum. The text we print is from a very pretty little edition of 1768, which I purchased in Paris. The French and English face each other, and the book was probably meant to teach English children French, and French children English. Clearly the English version was not made from Perrault’s first edition, but followed a later and slightly altered text. Perrault’s tales have been much cut about in English. The ordinary picture-books have many garbled phrases, and foolish pieces of moralising, or descriptions utterly alien to Perrault’s manner, are introduced. The curious close of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ has been improved away in English versions, but I cannot be so false to Perrault. Red Riding Hood is rescued and the wolf is killed by a woodsman, a perversion of history. Probably children prefer the truth. When M. P. J. Stahl told the tale to Charles Nodier’s little grandchild, a girl of four, she cried, ‘Le gentil petit loup’—Nice little wolf! M. Stahl was horrified, till he learned that his young friend was going without her dinner for her health's sake, and had been promised a cake. On Red Riding Hood’s cake, or ‘custard,’ her mind had been steadily fixed, to the exclusion of that heroine herself. And the child was commending the sportsmanlike conduct of the wolf, who is not recorded to have eaten the cake even if he did gobble up the heroine!

We do not know what passes in the minds of children when they hear the fairy tales. Perhaps they side with the wolf, or have a tendresse for the Yellow Dwarf. But if their open eyes and mouths tell the truth (they have not learned to tell aught else) they are happy and contented with these grave prodigious histories. Pretty certainly they do not take the moral, and will be none the wiser, if much the more diverted, for the tale of Prince Hyacinth Longnose. There are few courtiers in our nurseries, but Madame le Prince de Beaumont may have meant her tale for a little Dauphin’s reading.

The stories from the Norse which Mrs. Hunt has translated are familiar to many already in Sir George Dasent’s delightful book. We had only room for a few: they differ from the rest by a certain largeness of treatment; the clean cold air of the north, the healthy fragrance of pine forests blows through them, borne by the strong north wind. They are somewhat plain-spoken, but nobody who knows children, nobody who is not a prurient pedant of prudery, will be capable of thinking that this can harm their little readers. Dickens, in childhood, had ‘a child’s Tom Jones, an innocent creature.’ Still more innocent are the White Bear, and the kind, and brave, and loyal Master Maid, and the Princess on the Hill of Glass.

The stories from Grimm are among the best in the world, and are probably familiar to most children who may be presented with the Blue Fairy Book. They will not be sorry to laugh again with the ‘Brave Little Tailor,’ to shudder before the boy learned to do so, and to wander to the witch’s lollipop cottage with Hansel and Grettel. The Grimms’ Tales are now all done into English by Mrs. Hunt,[2] but we have thought it better to give an original rendering, by Miss May Sellar.

The English tales are so scanty, and have been so flattened and stupefied, and crammed with gross rural jests, in the chap books, that we can only give a decent if a dull version of ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ and ‘Dick Whittington.’ On the other hand ‘Gulliver in Lilliput’ has been condensed by Miss May Kendall; the marvels are left, and the satire is subdued. The Scotch stories are placed at the end for Scotch children. If English people ‘hate dialect’ so much that they cannot read the Waverley novels and Burns, English children (if inordinately and not merely affectedly stupid) may be puzzled by ‘The Black Bull of Norroway,’ and ‘The Red Etin of Ireland.’ Not much space, at all events, is sacrificed to the lore of what Mr. Gladstone once ingenuously supposed to be the ‘Land o’ the Leal.’ The Etin and the Bull are such very old friends of the editor’s, that he could not omit them when the fairies were invited to the festival.

As in all collections, many critics will miss many of their favourites. Space has its limits, and one is reluctantly obliged to leave out a tale or two from the Mabinogion, several from Islay’s stories of the West Highlands, and many from modern Greek, Japanese, Hindoo, Bassuto, Red Indian, Berber, Egyptian, and, above all, Finnish and Slavonic sources. As this essay was being written came the sad news that our Folk-Lore has lost its great Slavonic student, Mr. Ralston. No more will children follow him—they followed him once at Oxford, from the Museum, I think, to the Theatre—like the crowd that went after the music of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. He was no less admirable a narrator than a cautious, kindly, and learned student of nursery traditions. He had not only the science but the spirit of the fairy world. This word in a book meant for little boys and girls is due to the memory of a lover of children. Finally, the Editor must thank the authors who have helped him, and the artists who have lent their fancy to the book. His friend Mr. Jacomb Hood will pardon him for mentioning (in the sacred interests of science) that Monsieur de la Barbe Bleue was not a Turk! One of the ladies’ brothers was a Dragoon, the other a Mousquetaire, of M. d’Artagnan’s company perhaps. They were all French folk and Christians; had he been a Turk, Blue Beard need not have been wedded to but one wife at a time.


  1. The writer’s own ideas may be found in the preface to Mrs. Hunt's translations of Grimm’s ‘Kinder- und Hausmärchen,’ in The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche, in the Clarendon Press edition of Perrault’s Contes de ma Mère l’Oye, in the last chapter of Myth, Ritual, and Religion, and the preface to Mr. Tuer’s edition of the rhyme of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ attributed to Charles Lamb.
  2. G. Bell and Sons.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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