Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Yellow Fairy Book: Review

I grew up with a copy of Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book. I loved that hardback edition of fairy tales. I read it and reread it and reread it. At that time, I had no idea that there were a whole set of color fairy tales to be had.  But I had such fond memories of it that when I spied a modern edition of The Yellow Fairy Book at our Friends of the Library Book Shop in 2015, I just had to bring it home with me. I have to admit that it wasn't as spellbinding to my adult self as that first fairy tale collection was to my younger self.

There is something very magical about fairy tales for children. The simple phrase "Once upon a time..." sets the stage for all sorts of wonderful adventures. Adventures that feature girls no bigger than your thumb, a boy who can turn into a wolf, and a talking stove as well as the traditional princes, princesses, giants, witches, elves, and giants. In fact I was already familiar with a number of the stories collected here--including "Thumbelina," "The Six Swans," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Glass Mountain," and "The Nightingale." These are also some of the best tales in the book and I did still enjoy the visit to fairy land...with a few reservations.

[pardon me a moment as I step onto one of my soap boxes...]
I didn't realize when I picked up the book that Andrew Lang's collection had been "edited" by Brian Alderson. Edited here means that Brian made whatever alterations he thought necessary to make these more palatable to a modern audience. I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of those decisions--what I will do is give my opinion that if Mr. Alderson wanted to put together a "more acceptable" collection of fairy tales, then he should have done so with his own book. He shouldn't have been given Andrew Lang's collection and then been given free rein to decide whether the versions Lang included were appropriate or the most "readable" or whatever. Part of the charm of the Blue Fairy Book (as I recall) was that I knew (even as a youngster in the late 1970s) that I was stepping into a different time period--an era that believed in fairies and magic and dragons, etc. and a time period that may have thought other things that were no longer true as well. I knew that this time period didn't represent my time period and I didn't expect it to. 

But setting aside the rightness of whether he should have made the choices at all, I also have trouble with some of the choices themselves--he tells us that he has gotten rid of some of Lang's selections because they weren't interesting, but then he keeps variations of stories that are virtually the same. For example, we have multiple variations of the simpleton (or the least favored or what-have-you) winning the day through virtue of having made the right friends--gluttons who can eat everything, men who can make things cold or can see great distances; friends who can help him perform the impossible tasks required of him. If the point is to have a better offering of stories all around, then I would think variety would be a good standard to meet as well.

Overall--still a good selection of fairy tales that should appeal to young readers and I did enjoy them. Just not quite as much as expected. ★★

[Finished on 7/25/18]

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