Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lang, Andrew

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(1844-1912) Scottish man of letters who wrote novels, poetry, belles-lettres, influential book reviews, anthropological studies and children's books, and who edited a famous and influential Anthology series of traditional Fables and Fairytales retold for children (under the supervision of his wife, Leonora Lang, who assiduously censored his renderings), with some added hagiographical and historical material, all of which was new to the market. This sequence was The Blue Fairy Book (anth 1889), The Red Fairy Book (anth 1890), The Green Fairy Book (anth 1892), The Yellow Fairy Book (anth 1894), The Grey Fairy Book (anth 1900), The Violet Fairy Book (anth 1901), The Crimson Fairy Book (anth 1903), The Brown Fairy Book (anth 1904), The Orange Fairy Book (anth 1907), The Olive Fairy Book (anth 1907) and The Lilac Fairy Book (anth 1910). His adult fiction is now forgotten, as are his Children's Fantasies; but these anthologies, which were fairly heavily illustrated, continue to be used. The Rainbow Fairy Book (anth 1993) ed and illus Michael Hague, presents a selection of 31 tales from the originals, with new illustrations. AL's introduction to his edition of Charles Perrault, Perrault's Fairy Tales (coll 1888), gives his thoughts on the origins of the kind of material he adapted.

As a thinker in the field of anthropology, AL tended to a somewhat reductive common sense, arguing (for instance) that Folktales simply represent primitive beliefs in dramatic form (an argument which depreciates any sense of the inherent power of Story), and animadverting against the mythopoeic theorizing of Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough (1890). If AL is now unread in this field, it is perhaps because he was neither right nor interestingly wrong.

Of his over 120 titles, AL's best-remembered original works are his fairytales for children. The Princess Nobody: A Tale of Fairy Land (1884 chap; rev vt In Fairyland 1979 chap) is a prose fantasy based on Richard Doyle's illustrations to In Fairy Land: A Series of Pictures from the Elf-World (graph 1869), a poem by William Allingham (1824-1889), also making use of some illustrations omitted from the 1869 volume. The Gold of Fairnilee (1888 chap), much more substantial, tells of a young man abducted into the Garden of Faerie, where he remains seven years (see Time in Faerie) until his true love rescues him; in a central episode, his Perception of Faerie is altered by a magic liquid, and he sees the immortal land as a profoundly attenuated Waste Land; it is a significantly vivid presentation of a version of Faerie which has since become common. The Pantouflia sequence – Prince Prigio (1889) and Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia: Being the Adventures of Prince Prigio's Son (1893), both assembled as My Own Fairy Book (omni 1895), plus some stories from Tales of a Fairy Court (coll 1906) – rather more frivolously recounts the adventures of Prigio (and later his son, Ricardo) in a Faerie somewhat vitiated by jokes which reduce the venue to a Land-of-Fable Britain. Some of the adventures are amusing. The Gold of Fairnilee and Other Stories (coll 1967) conveniently assembles the best work.

Some of AL's adult fiction is of interest. "That Very Mab" (1885) with May Kendall (real name Emma Goldworth; 1861-?1931), published anon, tells of the 19th-century adventures of the Fairy Queen, who left England after the Puritan Thinning of the isle and now returns from Samoa to find her home sadly transformed. The title story of In the Wrong Paradise and Other Stories (coll 1886) dramatizes the dictum that one man's Heaven is another man's Hell; in "The End of Phaeacia", also in this volume, a missionary shipwrecked on a South Sea Island discovers it to be the Homeric Phaeacia. Some of the pieces collected in Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody (coll 1890) offer a forerunner for the writing of Recursive fiction.

AL was a close friend of H Rider Haggard. He anonymously parodied She (1887) in He, by the Author of It (1887; vt He, A Companion to She 1887 US) with Walter Herries Pollock. After this jape, AL collaborated with Haggard on The World's Desire (1890), which combines Haggard's crude, sometimes haunting vigour with AL's chastely pastel classicism; despite occasional longueurs, the resulting tale of Odysseus's last journey to find Helen in Egypt is a moving, frequently eloquent romance, the best AL was ever involved in, and effectively comes to a climax with Odysseus's discovery that Helen is the Avatar of Ayesha and his death at the hands of his son.

Copious, but flawed in general by a disheartening dilettantism, AL's work lies just the wrong side of major ranking in the fantasy field – exactly as in his other areas of concentration. [JC]

other works: Much Darker Days (1884; rev 1885) as by A Huge Longway, which parodies Dark Days (1884) by Hugh Conway; The Mark of Cain (1886), sf; Pictures at Play, or Dialogues of the Galleries (coll 1888) with W E Henley (1849-1903), as by Two Art-Critics; A Monk of Fife: Being the Chronicle Written by Norman Leslie of Pitcullo, Concerning Marvellous Deeds that Befell in the Realm of France, in the Years of our Redemption, MCCCCXXIX-XXXI (dated 1896 but 1895), about Joan of Arc; The Disentanglers (coll of linked stories 1901 chap US; much exp 1902 UK), Club Stories; The Story of the Golden Fleece (1903); The Story of Joan of Arc (1906); When it Was Light: A Reply to "When it was Dark" (1906), anon, responding to Guy Thorne's 1903 novel; Tales of Troy and Greece (coll 1907).

Nonfiction: Custom and Myth (1884; rev 1885); 6 vols of translations and studies of Homer and associated figures, being The Odyssey (trans 1879) with S H Butcher, The Iliad (trans 1883) with Walter Leaf and Ernest Myers, Homer and the Epic (1893), The Homeric Hymns (1899), which includes translations, Homer and His Age (1906) and The World of Homer (1910); Myth, Ritual, and Religion (1887; rev 1899) in 2 vols; Modern Mythology (1897); Cock-Lane and Common Sense (coll 1894); The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897); Magic and Religion (1901); The Puzzle of Dickens's Last Plot (1905), about Charles Dickens's Edwin Drood (1870); The Secret of the Totem (1905); Method in the Study of Totemism (1911).

as editor: The Dead Leman and Other Tales from the French (anth trans AL and Paul Sylvester 1889 UK), containing some Supernatural Fiction; The Blue Poetry Book (anth 1891); The Animal Story Book (anth 1896); The Nursery Rhyme Book (anth 1897); The Arabian Nights Entertainments (anth 1898); The Red Book of Animal Stories (anth 1899); The Book of Romance (anth 1902); The Red Romance Book (anth 1905).

Andrew Lang


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.