‘The Brown Bear of Norway’ – an Irish tale that echoes ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – is one of the memorable stories in this fascinating collection created by folklorist Andrew Lang. 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.
Though their origins are diverse, these tales often explore similar ideas about the qualities that determine a person’s happiness and success. Many have playful lessons to teach – whether through the antics of animal characters, or the changing fortunes of humble cottage-dwellers and proud princesses. And, in true fairy-tale tradition, the events that reveal a character’s real nature are often bound up in curious disguises, blessings and curses, in promises forsaken and kept... In ‘The Raspberry Worm’, two girls who protect a lowly creature from danger find their kindness returned by a woodland king with magical powers. The plucky heroine of ‘The One-Handed Girl’ chooses her parents’ blessing over material gain and, through her wisdom and honesty, finds happiness despite the deceitful plots of her greedy brother. In ‘A Lost Paradise’, a poor young couple discover a life of comfort and riches in the castle of a magnanimous king. But like Lot’s wife, their contentment depends upon their ability to resist a simple temptation...
As well as echoing each other, many of the tales recall ancient myths. As children's author Geraldine McCaughrean says in her thoughtful introduction, ‘Spot-the-Greek-Myth’ is just one of the games that can be played by the reader of this intriguing collection. 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.