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In the late 19th century, historian, scholar, and anthropologist, Andrew Lang, began publishing collections of fairy tales from around the world. The first volume was `The Blue Fairy Book' published in 1887. Lang was not a true ethnologist, like the German Brothers Grimm. He was far more the `translator' than collector of tales from the source, stories transcribed from being told by people to whom the tales were passed down by word of mouth. In fact, many stories in his first volume, such as Rumpelstiltskin; Snow White; Sleeping Beauty; Cinderella; and Hansel and Gretel were translated from Grimm's books of fairy tales. Some of his `fairy tales' were even `copied from relatively recent fantasy fiction, such as A Voyage to Lilliput, the first of the four episodes in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
My inspiration for commenting Lang's series of fairy tale books is for the sheer quantity of tales, the wonderful woodcut illustrations, some few of which may have become almost as popular as the tales (although not quite in the same league as Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's great fantasies), and the fact that I had these when I was young.
With twelve of these books, with between 30 and 36 stories in each book, this gives one about 400 different stories. If I were to recommend anything as standard equipment at a grandparents' house, it would be a complete set of these books.
Needless to say, there are a few `warnings' to accompany books assembled over 100 years ago. You will encounter a fair number of words with which even an adult may be unfamiliar, let alone a five year old. For example, on the second page of The Princess Mayblossom in The Red Fairy Book, a character puts sulfur in a witch's porridge. This requires at least three explanations. What is sulfur, what is porridge, and why is sulfur in porridge such a bad thing. More difficult still is when a prince entered the town on a white horse which `pranced and caracoled to the sound of the trumpets'. In 19th century London, caracoling (making half turns to the right and the left) was probably as common and as well known as `stepping on the gas' is today. But, if you're a grandparent, that's half the fun, explaining new words and ideas to the young-uns.
There is another `danger' which may require just a bit more explanation, although in today's world of crime dramas on TV, I'm not sure that most kids are already totally immune to being shocked by death and dead bodies. In these stories, lots of people and creatures get killed in very unpleasant ways, and lots of very good people and creatures suffer in very unpleasant ways. It's ironic that the critics in Lang's own time felt the stories were 'unreality, brutality, and escapism to be harmful for young readers, while holding that such stories were beneath the serious consideration of those of mature age'. The success of a whole library of Walt Disney feature length cartoons based on these stories is a testament to how well they work with children. But do be warned, Uncle Walt did clean things up a bit. Lang's versions hold back on very little that was ugly and unpleasant in some of these stories.
The down side to the great quantity of stories is that even when some come from very different parts of the world, there is a remarkable amount of overlap in theme, plot, and characters. But by the time you get to another story of a beautiful young girl mistreated by a stepmother, it will have been several month since you read Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper in The Blue Fairy Book. The other side of the coin is that you can play the game of trying to recall what that other story was with a similar theme.
There is one very big word of caution about buying these books through Amazon or a similar on line outlet. I stopped counting when I got to twelve different editions of The Blue Fairy Book, or a volume including several of these books. Not all of these editions have the original woodcuts and even worse, not all have a table of contents and introduction. The one publisher which has all twelve volumes is by Dover. Other publishers, such as Flying Chipmunk Publishing (yes, that's it's name) also have all the original illustrations, table of contents, and introduction, but I'm not certain that publisher has all twelve volumes. Dover most certainly does, as I just bought all twelve of them from Amazon.
While I suspect these stories may have been `old hat' for quite some time, it may be that with the popularity of Lord of the Rings, the Narnia stories, and the Harry Potter stories, all of which have their share of suffering and death, that these may be in for a revival. Again, the main attraction is that for relatively little money and space, Grammy and Grandad get a great resource for bonding with children.