The Blue Fairy Book

The Blue Fairy Book (1891).

The Blue Fairy Book is probably the volume with the most traditional tales, with the singular exception of an adaptation of the first part of Gulliver’s Travels, which is not a fairy tale in any sense–not even a “literary” fairy tale, to wit, a fairy tale “made up from one’s own head.” Roger Greene ponders, “How Lang came to allow this last to be included is inexplicable, for it is quite alien to anything in any of the fairy books, which never again depart from the traditional tales” [1].

Frontispiece and title page.

But of particular interest to me was a tale curiously and deceptively titled “The Terrible Head.” It begins thus:

“ONCE upon a time there was a king whose only child was a girl. Now the King had been very anxious to have a son, or at least a grandson, to come after him, but he was told by a prophet whom he consulted that his own daughter’s son should kill him.”

Sound familiar? I confess I was ashamed at not immediately recognizing the tale. It continues:

“This news terrified him so much that he determined never to let his daughter be married, for he thought it was better to have no grandson at all than to be killed by his grandson. He therefore called his workmen together, and bade them dig a deep round hole in the earth, and then he had a prison of brass built in the hole, and then, when it was finished, he locked up his daughter.”

At this point I cottoned on, though I still felt thoroughly cozened by Mr. Lang. If you still have not identified the tale, this next excerpt should be illuminating:

“So the Princess would sit looking up at the sky, and watching the clouds float across, and wondering whether she should ever get out of her prison. Now one day it seemed to her that the sky opened above her, and a great shower of shining gold fell through the window in the roof, and lay glittering in her room. Not very long after, the Princess had a baby, a little boy, but when the King her father heard of it he was very angry and afraid, for now the child was born that should be his death. ”

What on earth was the Perseus myth doing in a Fairy Book? And why were the characters all nameless? Mr. Lang was being highly unsportsmanlike, to hoodwink his reader so. But how ingenious to disguise them as stock fairytale characters! This tale was another anomaly. For nowhere else in the Fairy Books does Lang allow a Greek myth to be included; he reserves them for a separate, subsequent publication, Tales of Troy and Greece. Anyone acquainted with myths and Märchen would instinctively distinguish the two, and so they should, and so did Lang.

Athena and Hermes loom over Perseus. Yes, the illustrations give the game away.

Lang the folklorist/anthropologist discerned three hierarchal categories of “traditional fictions”: (1) “popular tales of the lower and more backward races” [2]; (2) “märchen, or contes, or household tales of the modern European, Asiatic and Indian peasantry” [3]; and (3) “in epic poetry and legend the heroic and romantic tales of the great civilised races” [4]. These might loosely be called the folktales of non-“Aryan,” to wit, non-Indo-European, races; the fairy and folk tales of the “Aryan” races; and mythology (of the “Aryan” races).

The entire Fairy Book collection comprises, in the main, tales of types 1 and 2, and type 2 predominates in the Blue Fairy Book. Though Lang perceived that in all three classes “the ideas and incidents are analogous, and the very conduct of the plot is sometimes recognisably the same” and that the “moral ideas…are often identical” [5], to his mind there was a greater divide between types 2 and 3 than between 1 and 2:

“THE Märchen, or child’s story, is a form of literature primevally old, but with the infinite capacity of renewing its youth…the most ancient form of romantic fiction. The civilised peoples have elaborated these child-like legends into chief romantic myths, as of the Ship Argo, and the sagas of Heracles and Odysseus. Uncivilised races, Ojibbeways, Eskimo, Samoans, retain the old wives’ fables in a form far less cultivated,–probably far nearer the originals. European peasants keep them in shapes more akin to the savage than to the Greek forms” [6].

We may forgive Mr. Lang, writing over a century ago, for his political-incorrectness. By “savage” he meant more or less stone-wielding, totemist hunter-gatherers [7].

Perseus about to snatch the eyeball from the Graeae.

Evidently myths–the Greek myths at any rate–were not sufficiently “savage” for the Fairy Books, though they did retain “savage” elements. The Perseus saga, however, out of all the Greek sagas, contains the most folktale motifs [8], which Lang surely noticed. These include the hero’s magical conception by a princess; his humble upbringing; the iniquitous king and his good brother; the boastful promise, which the hero fulfills with the aid of supernatural helpers and magical objects; old women whose advice must be sought; monsters “of ferocious ugliness” to be quelled; the quest, and the endless travelling it entails, especially journeying to the edge of the world or far West; success of the hero; punishment of the villain; rescue of a damsel in distress; and finally, marriage to said damsel, a princess–your obligatory fairy tale ending [9]. Perseus is also to be distinguished from other Greek heroes, who are not given magical trinkets.

The presence of such features in the tales of a “civilised” people puzzled Lang, and his puzzling led him to conclude that their “presence in civilisation is a relic surviving from the time when the ancestors of a civilised race were in the state of savagery” [10]. The myth was the apogee of the “traditional romance,” which passed through the states of types 1 and 2, and its “final treatment, the ultimate literary form of the myth” varied with race [11]. He believed that primitive peoples produced similar, near identical stories primarily by virtue of being in the same state of “savage intellectual condition” [12] and that these tales became to an extent individualized as these peoples saw the light of civilization, which, via localization, necessarily increased the individualization of their respective cultures. Therefore, “when we read Homer…we recognise the effect of race upon myth, the effect of the Greek genius at work on rude material” [13], that is, the rude material common to “savages.”

The Hesperides.

One of the effects, or cause of these effects, is the use of celebrated names. Lang observed that in his type 1 tales “The persons are sometimes anonymous, sometimes are named while the name is not celebrated” [14], while in the type 2 tales people and places were anonymous [15]. The myths of type 3 on the other hand were localized and told of “national heroes, such as Perseus, Jason, Oedipus and Olympian gods,” all too historical, albeit quasi-historical, to be deemed mere folk tales [16]. Names, therefore, were “later additions” in the evolution of the traditional tale and “[varied] in various lands” [17]: “We may be pretty sure that the adventures of Jason, Perseus, and Oedipus, were originally told only of ‘Somebody'” [18]. He held this view in vehement opposition to that of Max Müller’s, who speculated that names were original features of myths that became corrupted by a “disease of language,” and the overthrow of whose philological interpretation of myths was Lang’s “greatest feat” in the domain of anthropology [19].

So Lang cleverly “recasts it in the form of an ordinary folk-tale by the suppression of all personal and local names” [20]. Acrisius and Polydectes are “the King,” Danaë “the Princess,” Perseus “the Prince.” Apollo is “a young man like a king’s son,” Athena, periphrastically, “a tall and beautiful woman, whose blue eyes shone like stars,” and both are “taller than mortal men.” The Graeae, more transparently, are “the Three Grey Sisters,” the Hesperides “the Three Fairies of the Garden,” the Gorgons “the Dreadful Women” or “the Terrible Women,” and Medusa, wretch that she is, is referred to only by her “Terrible Head.” Most amusing is Lang’s renaming of the magical items: the Cap of Invisibility, the scimitar/sickle/sword (harpe), and the pair of winged sandals become the “Cap of Darkness,” the “Sword of Sharpness,” and the “Shoes of Swiftness,” all of which make a reprise in “The History of Jack the Giant-killer,” which appears later in the same book.

The Terrible Head, presumably on Athena's Aegis (her sheild).

I have been saying “Lang” because this is one of the few tales in the Fairy Books that the Editor himself retold. Here we glimpse Lang in his capacity as writer and classical scholar. He discloses in the preface that his version is adapted from Apollodorus (Library 2.4 [21]), Simonides (fragment quoted in On Literary Composition by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 543 ff.), and Pindar (Pythian Odes 12 [22]). Lang adds some imaginative descriptions, dialogue and character introspection. He has Danaë sing a ‘lullaby’ to Perseus as they drift across the main, which song is actually a translation of the fragment by Simonides.

Indeed, Lang was an accomplished classicist. He had a “life-long devotion to Homer” and studied classics at St. Andrews, where he did exceptionally well in Greek, and later earned a scholarship to undertake postgraduate studies at Balliol College, Oxford, followed by a fellowship at Merton College, which he held for seven years [23]. (It might interest some of you to know that when Lang came to Balliol, Robert Scott, the S of LSJ, was Master of the college.) Later in life he published three books on the Homeric Question, championing the unity of Homer, though these works, as is the way of scholarship, are now obsolete. His vast corpus includes also much-lauded prose translations of both Homeric epics, although these are probably moribund too, if not already obsolete.

I shall end with a note on costuming. In his depiction of the Hesperides, Lang arrays them in green, white, and red. Whilst one of their names, Erytheia, means “the red one,” the other names of Hesperides do not as far as I can tell denote colours. Nor have I been able to find any evidence that attests to the colour scheme of their raiment. The only representation of the Hesperides I’ve been able to find that accords with Lang’s sartorial taste is Lord Frederic Leighton’s The Garden of the Hesperides. Interestingly, the painting is said to have been done circa 1892, only one year after the publication of the Blue Fairy Book.

The Garden of the Hesperides (c. 1892) by Lord Frederic Leighton.

All book photos courtesy of the Osborne Collection, Toronto Public Libraries.

1. p. 81: Green, Roger L. Andrew Lang: A Critical Biography with a Short-Title Bibliography of the Works of Andrew Lang. Leicester, Eng: E. Ward, 1946.
2. p. 302: Lang, Andrew. Myth, Ritual and Religion, V.2. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1899.
3. p. 303, Ibid.
4. p. 304, Ibid.
5. p. 305, Ibid.
6. p. v-vi, in an Introduction to: Eeden, Frederik . Little Johannes. London: W. Heinemann, 1895. You can view it online here.
7. p. 34: Lang, Andrew. Myth, Ritual and Religion, V.1. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1906.
8. p. 558: Morford, Mark P. O, and Robert J. Lenardon. Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
9. p. 558, Ibid.
10. Lang, Andrew. Custom and Myth. [e-book]. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1884. Available at:
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. p. 303, Myth, Ritual and Religion, V.2.
15. p. 304, Ibid.
16. p. 304, Ibid.
17. Custom and Myth.
18. Ibid.
20. p. 82, Greene.
21. The Greek and English can be found in the Perseus Digital Library.
22. The Greek and English can be found in the Perseus Digital Library. Unfortunately, it does not have anything by Simonides.
23. p. 245-6, from “Andrew Lang in fairyland” by Roger Lancelyn Green. Egoff, Sheila A, G T. Stubbs, and L F. Ashley. Only Connect: Readings on Children’s Literature. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1980.
24. The Garden of the Hesperides by Lord Frederic Leighton, taken from


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The Magic Fishbone


Cover of edition printed in 1911, with illustrations by Susan Beatrice Pearse

The Magic Fishbone is the second of four stories, written in 1867, for a series called Holiday Romance. The series was published in the children’s magazines:  All the Year Round and Our Young FolksBoth magazines can be found in The Osborne Collection, along with the edition of the story that is shown here, which was published in 1911 and illustrated by Susan Beatrice Pearse.

I had planned to do a post about A Christmas Carol, also by Charles Dickens, because I have Christmas on my mind and the recent press surrounding the new Muppets movie reminded me of their movie/musical version of A Christmas Carol (1992). I was 11 years old when that movie came out and I loved it! It was several years before I read the original story but by that time it felt like an old friend. I knew The Osborne Collection would have several gorgeous editions that I could share on the blog and I was looking forward to seeing a few of them. When I arrived, Martha brought me the books I had asked for from their catalogue, but she also brought out a less well-known Dickens story that she thought I would like: The Magic Fishbone. I had never heard of it before and I thought there was a good chance it would be new to others who read this blog as well, so I’ve decided to share this story instead.

Each of the four stories are purportedly written  by a child during the holidays, which explains how playfully nonsensical this particular story is, as you will see.

The fictional author of  The Magic Fishbone is a seven-year-old girl named, Alice Rainbird.  She tells the story of King and Queen Watkins, who have nineteen children, aged seven months to seven years. The eldest, Princess Alicia helped care for her brothers and sisters, especially because her mother was often ill and her father works in an office all day.

The Watkins Children

The king is in a melancholy mood one morning because quarter day is a long way off  and many of his children are growing out of their clothes. Nevertheless, he stops at a Fishmongers to purchase half a pound of salmon on his way to work one day, to be sent home to his wife for their dinner that night. The errand-boy from the shop quickly catches up with and asks if he noticed the strange old woman in the shop while he was there. The king did not, but the old lady is following closely behind. She introduces herself as Good Fairy Grandmarina and has strict instructions for the king.  He must allow Princess Alicia to eat some of the salmon he has just purchased.

Grandmarina treats the king like a child when he protests and  insists that he does not ask questions, but “be good” and do as he is told. She tells him at the end of the meal Princess Alicia will leave a bone on the plate and he is to tell her to dry it, and polish it until it shines. The fishbone will grant her a wish—any wish—provided she ask for it at the right time.

The king does as he is told and relates the instructions from Grandmarina to Princess Alicia. Her mother, “the Royal Momma” promptly faints and falls ill. Princess Alicia finds her mother’s smelling salts and revives her. Princess Alicia is relied upon to nurse her mother and care for her siblings.


Several things happen, while her mother is ill, that makes Alicia think about using the magic fishbone. One of her young brothers is badly bitten by an ill-tempered pug dog next door, but she manages to stop the bleeding and piece together some old rags to make a proper bandage for him. When the cook runs away with the tall tipsy soldier, Princess Alicia steps in to do the cooking. But, while she is peeling turnips for their  soup, the baby of the family falls out of her lap and under a grate. His face is badly bruised and swollen and he will not stop crying, which upsets the rest of the children. But, Princess Alicia distracts them by having them pretend to be cooks, making caps out of old newspapers. She nurses the baby’s wounds and soothes him while supervising the rest of the children, who finish making dinner. Once they finish eating and cleaning up, she has them entertain the baby (and themselves) with “the dance of eighteen cooks.”

The King is perplexed by the fact that his daughter does not use the magic fishbone and asks her several times if she has lost it or forgotten about it. My favourite part of the story is Alicia’s friendship with the Duchess, her doll, who only Alicia knows is actually alive. I like it because Alicia’s imagination brings the doll further to life, each time she confides in the duchess. When the King looks at her crossly for not helping her mother with the fishbone, Alicia tells the duchess about it and the little doll nods and smiles. As time goes on and Alicia continues to confide in her, the duchess winks, laughs and tosses her hair, and eventually, carries on a conversation.

When the King sees his children dancing for the baby he sighs heavily and sits down miserably. Princess Alicia asks what is wrong and he confides in her about his financial problems. She asks if there is any way of getting more money, and when he assures her there is not, she explains why she has not used the fishbone in the past: “When we have done our very, very best, papa, and that is not enough, then I think the right time must have come for asking help of others.” Then, she takes out the fishbone, kisses it, and the King’s pay comes rattling down the chimney.

The wish is followed promptly by Grandmarina, who arrives in a carriage that is pulled by four peacocks. She is there to scold the king and ensure he has learned a lesson from his daughter. Once satisfied, she provides clothing for the children and heals their wounds before asking to be introduced to the duchess. They request the family’s presence at the church in half an hour. Together, Grandmarina, the duchess, and Princess Alicia search out Prince Certainpersonio. They find him “sitting by himself and waiting to be ninety.” Grandmarina tells him she has brought his bride and the duchess serves as bridesmaid at their wedding.

Thanks to Grandmarina, there will be eight quarter days each year from then on, except leap years, when there will be ten. Which is  a very good thing for Princess Alicia and Prince Certainpersonio; they are told they will have thirty-five children (eighteen girls and seventeen boys). All of their children will all be good and beautiful, with naturally curly hair. “They will never have the measles, and they will have recovered from the whooping-cough before being born.”

Grandmarina’s last order of business is to get rid of the fishbone. When she takes it from Princess Alicia, it magically flies down the throat of the pug dog next door, choking him to death.

It is a strange story, but I could easily imagine a seven year old girl telling it, especially the part about having eighteen girls and seventeen boys. It was surprising in parts and I enjoyed it. It won’t take the place of A Christmas Carol, in terms of a favourite holiday story, but I am glad Martha thought to share it with me.

All photos were taken at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library:

1. Dickens, Charles. The Magic Fishbone. London: The Saint Cathedral Press and James Nisbet & Co., 1911. Illustrations by Susan Beatrice Pearse.


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Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books

I can usually say how I came across any book I’ve ever read, and roughly when, too. But I can’t for the life of me recall how I stumbled upon–and I’m sure I stumbled upon them–Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, often called the Colour(ed) Fairy Books, and sometimes the Rainbow Fairy Books (which is something of a misnomer because Grey is not a colour of the iridescent spectrum). And I can remember only very roughly when–sometime in the last quinquennium. Which is all rather queer; it almost makes me think some subtle fairy has spirited away my memory, and with the result that it’s as if I’ve never not known the Fairy Books. Whether or not it’s on account of my feeble powers of recollection, I regard Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books as the repository of Märchen (folk and fairy tales) that isn’t an encyclopedia of some sort. To my mind, Lang is the British analog of Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Asbjørnsen and Moe, and Anderson (despite the fact that he reputedly made his stories up), though he is more accurately all of them, and more, combined.

First Editions of the Blue (1889), Red (1890), Green (1892), Yellow (1894), Pink (1897), Grey (1900), Violet (1901), Crimson (1903), Brown (1904), Orange (1906), Olive (1907), and Lilac (1910) Fairy Books.

Which is why the irreverent idea of the Osborne not having these books never entered my mind. And indeed, all the first editions were there, all of them beautifully clothbound with gilt pictorial covers and gilt page edges, and all of them surprisingly heavy owing to the density of paper. On the whole, they reminded me of books by Easton Press, which also happens to have published a leather-bound version of the series.

Gold gilt edges, which my camera just doesn't do justice.

Lang’s collection comprises a prodigious twelve books which constitute less than 10% of his voluminous output (not including his uncollected works, which, it has been reckoned, “would fill more than that number of volumes over again” [1]. It is strikingly multicultural, for lack of a better word, which is “In keeping with his concept of making manifest the universality of the human experience” [2]:…all people, black, white, brown, red, and yellow, are like each other when they tell stories” (vii, Brown Fairy Book). With nearly three hundred stories all told, the series includes retellings of tales French, Scottish, Scandinavian, American Indian, Japanese, African, Hungarian, Indian, Italian, Brazilian, Iberian, Australian, and more than I’d like to list; Lang generally ventured farther afield as he progressed through the series [3]. (I do not mean this literally. He did not, like the Brothers Grimm, go afoot among the peasants to record these stories; the tales he gathered already existed in print.)

While preparing the Blue Fairy Book, he never intended it to be the first of a series of books; certainly he never expected to publish twelve (which you can tell by the erratic mix of colours, which, apart from the aberration of Orange, become progressively more tertiary). The book “was an experiment, and of a kind that must have caused a certain amount of anxiety to Longman, the publisher…For at that time the fairy-tale had almost ceased to be read in British nurseries, and the novel of child life, the stories of Mrs. Ewing, Mrs. Molesworth, and L. T. Meade, were the only fare” [4]. Only two years later, public taste was again in favour of fairy tale. The enormous popularity of the first book prompted the Red Fairy Book; and in the Green Fairy Book, Lang writes:

“This is the third, and probably the last, of the Fairy Books…If we have a book for you next year, it shall not be a fairy book.” (ix-xi)

After that, he seems to have given himself over to the clamouring children, as he never again in any preface anticipates the end of his series.

Funnily enough, hardly any of these tales were retold by Lang himself; he was merely the Editor, whose name was also a “draw” because of his reputation as an established literary critic, folklorist, anthropologist, and promising writer for children [5]. And though he styles himself “Editor” in the preface to the first Fairy Book, since The Rule is that prefaces are to be passed over, he was often mistaken for the author. He endeavours to set the facts aright in the preface to the seventh volume, the Violet Fairy Book:

“The Editor takes this opportunity to repeat what he has often said before, that he is not the author of the stories in the Fairy Books; that he did not invent them ‘out of his own head.’ He is accustomed to being asked, by ladies, ‘Have you written anything else except the Fairy Books?’ He is then obliged to explain that he has not written the Fairy Books, but, save these, has written almost everything else, except hymns, sermons, and dramatic works.” (vii)

And again in the following Crimson Fairy Book:

“Each Fairy Book demands a preface from the Editor, and these introductions are inevitably both monotonous and unavailing. A sense of literary honesty compels the Editor to keep repeating that he is the Editor, and not the author of the Fairy Tales, just as a distinguished man of science is only the Editor, not the Author of Nature. The Editor’s business is to hunt for collections of these stories told by peasant or savage grandmothers in many climes…When the tales are found they are adapted to the needs of British children by various hands, the Editor doing little beyond guarding the interests of propriety, and toning down to mild reports the tortures inflicted on wicked stepmothers, and other naughty characters.
“These explanations have frequently been offered already, but, as far as ladies and children are concerned, to no purpose. They still ask the Editor how he can invent so many stories–more than Shakespeare, Dumas, and Charles Dickens could have invented in a century.
“But children remain unaware of the facts [that nobody knows who invented folktales], and so do their dear mothers; whence the Editor infers that they do not read his prefaces, and are not members of the Folk-Lore Society, or students of…Though these explanations are not attended to by the Editor’s customers, he makes them once more, for the relief of his conscience.” (v-vi)

Two books later:

“The children who read fairy books, or have fairy books read to them, do not read prefaces, and the parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who give fairy books to their daughters, nieces, and cousines, leave prefaces unread. For whom, then, are prefaces written? When an author publishes a book ‘out of his own head,’ he writes the preface for his own pleasure…
“These Fairy Books, however, are not written by the Editor, as he has often explained, ‘out of his own head.'” (v, Orange Fairy Book)

This case of mistaken authorship evidently persisted relentlessly seeing as Lang felt the need even after twenty-one years of the series’ circulation to redress the matter in the preface to his final volume, the Lilac Fairy Book, which begins with a complaint about menacing ladies at dinner parties:

“…One nymph [at a dinner party] who, like the rest, could not keep off the horrid topic of my occupation, said ‘You never write anything but fairy books, do you?’ A French gentleman, too, an educationist and expert in portraits of Queen Mary, once sent me a newspaper article in which he had written that I was exclusively devoted to the composition of fairy books, and nothing else. He then came to England, visited me, and found that I knew rather more about portraits of Queen Mary than he did…
“In truth, I never did write any fairy books in my life, except ‘Prince Prigio,’ ‘Prince Ricardo,’ and ‘Tales from a Fairy Court’…
“My part has been that of Adam, according to Mark Twain, in the Garden of Eden. Eve worked, Adam superintended. I also superintend. I find out where the stories are, and advise, and, in short, superintend. I do not write the stories out of my own head. The reputation of having written all the fairy books (an European reputation in nurseries and the United States of America) is ‘the burden of an honour unto which I was not born.’ It weighs upon and is killing me….” (v-vii)

“Eve” is his wife of course, Mrs Lang, who translated and/or adapted most of the tales. A host of other women translators for the more exotic languages contributed, too. Mrs. Lang’s primary concern was “to control the vocabulary and sentence structure so that a child of average reading ability might read the stories. As a result, the words rarely exceed two syllables but the sentences are longer and contain more clauses than is usual in modern writing. Lang himself was concerned only with the complexity of the concept; he had little empathy with a nonreading child” [6]. In other words, they did not patronize their juvenile readers with stories sanitized ad absurdum. Good and justice prevail and gruesomeness is avoided, but a goodly degree of cruelty and tragedy is still permitted: one couple incurs their own deaths [7]; one heroine cuts off her own finger in order to find her prince [8]; another prince jumps off a tower and (though impossibly he survives) suffers blindness by brambles [9]; a villain is punished by being rolled to death in a barrel lined with sharp nails [10].

It has been said that “The irony of Lang’s life and work is that although he wrote for a profession–literary criticism; fiction; poems; books and articles on anthropology, mythology, history, and travel; original stories for children…he is best recognized for the books he did not write”[11]. And yet I could probably count singlehandedly the number of my friends who know of the Fairy Books or Andrew Lang, who was once hailed as “the undisputed king of the nursery shelf” [12].

On that account, I hope to feature each of the Fairy Books in a future post.

All images courtesy of the Osborne Collection, Toronto Public Libraries.

1. p.247, from “Andrew Lang in fairyland” by Roger Lancelyn Green. Egoff, Sheila A, G T. Stubbs, and L F. Ashley. Only Connect: Readings on Children’s Literature. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1980.
2. p.139: Langstaff, Eleanor D. S. Andrew Lang. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978.
3. p.139, Ibid.
4. p.82: Green, Roger L. Andrew Lang: A Critical Biography with a Short-Title Bibliography of the Works of Andrew Lang. Leicester, Eng: E. Ward, 1946.
5. p.81, Ibid.
6. p.144, Langstaff.
7. p.50 in “The Yellow Dwarf,” Blue Fairy Book. London; New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889.
8. p.114, in “The Enchanted Pig,” Red Fairy Book. London; New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890.
9. p.284, in “Rapunzel,” Red Fairy Book. London; New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890.
10. p.273, in “The Goose-Girl,” Blue Fairy Book. London; New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889.
11. p.387: Silvey, Anita. Children’s Books and Their Creators. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
12. Still looking–can’t remember where I read this…


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The Princess and the Goblin

“I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” — George MacDonald,  “The Fantastic Imagination”

Illustrated by Jesse Willcox Smith (1920)

I first read  George MacDonald’s,  The Princess and the Goblin, for a Children’s Literature course at the University of Toronto. Although I first encountered it my late twenties, I really enjoyed reading it. Images of the tender-footed goblins in their subterranean caves and Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother spinning in her attic room have stayed with me, so it was one of the first books I looked for in The Osborne Collection’s catalogue. They have seventeen copies available to look at, published between 1872 to 1986, including a Hebrew translation: ha-Nesikhah yeha-shedonim, published in 1965. I looked at several copies, ranging in age and form, from an older boxed collector’s edition to a Puffin Classics paperback. I especially liked the cover of this one, from a copy printed in 1920 and illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. I asked Martha, who works at The Osborne Collection, if she has any favourite editions and she said that, although she has a soft spot for the copy she remembers from her childhood, now she especially likes the ones that include the original black and white illustrations by Arthur Hughes.

Illustrations by Arthur Hughes

Princess Irene is eight-years old when the story begins. She is sent away from her parents, to be raised in the country in a large home on the side of a mountain. She lives a sheltered life in which she is often kept indoors because, though nobody tells the princess, there are intelligent but devious goblins living in caves and tunnels underground. The goblins used to be men, but they were driven underground by some long-ago persecution and have become grotesque, squat beings with hard heads and soft, vulnerable feet. They have built and maintained their own subterranean kingdom in which they maintain an “ancestral grudge against those who occupied their former possessions and especially against the descendants of the king who caused their expulsion.”

On a rare occasion when Irene is left alone in her room, Irene takes the opportunity to explore the upper regions of the house, where she finds her “father’s mother’s father’s mother,” or her great-great-grandmother, whose guidance and supernatural powers help Irene through the course of the story.

Illustrations by: Maria L. Kirk, Arthur Hughes, and Charles Folkard

The beautiful great-great-grandmother cannot be seen by everyone and Princess Irene struggles to convince people that the old queen truly exists; she even begins to think that she may have dreamed the meeting. When she searches for her great-great-grandmother, she cannot be found. Nevertheless, when she is needed, the old queen is always available.

Princess Irene is also aided by a twelve-year-old miner named Curdie Peterson, who knows the goblin’s secret: they hate poetry. Curdie has a talent for making up rhymes on the spot that keep the goblins at a distance. One afternoon when the princess and her nurse, Lootie, are out for a walk, Lootie is spooked by mischief-making goblins into running about the mountainside until they have thoroughly lost their way. Curdie notices the excited goblins and begins to sing a song to scare them away, before escorting the princess and her nurse home.

Illustrations by: Arthur Hughes, Maria L. Kirk, and Jesse Wilcox Smith

Curdie is not afraid of the goblins because he knows their weaknesses. As a result, he is not afraid to work late in the mines. He hopes to earn some extra money so he can buy his mother a new petticoat, after noticing she has complained of the cold earlier than usual that year. When the goblins believe the miners to be gone home for the night, they congress in the goblin Palace Hall. Curdie cautiously follows a progression of goblins to their meeting and overhears the goblin king’s plans for “the deliverance of their people.” Curdie discovers that they have a contingency plan to flood the mines but he is unable to discover their main plan without risking discovery.

Curdie spends many nights attempting to discover what the goblins are planning. Eventually he is discovered, eavesdropping on the royal family. He does, however, learn of their plans to kidnap Princess Irene and force her to marry their crown prince, Harelip. The great-great-grandmother spins spiderwebs, brought to her from across the sea by her pigeons, into fine thread that she gives Irene. When Curdie is caught spying on the goblins, that thread guides Irene to Curdie and they follow it  safely out of the maze of underground caves.

Illustrations by: Jessie Willcox Smith (1 & 2) and Maria L. Kirk

As you can see, there are several plot-points that several illustrators include in their editions of the story. Of all of the copies I have seen though, there is one image in the story that has stayed with me, that I have not seen included as an illustration. On the night Irene is given the thread from her great-great-grandmother, she is scared out of her room by a deformed, long-legged, cat-like creature. The author explains:

“My readers will suspect what these were; but I will now give them full information concerning them. They were, of course, household animals belonging to the goblins, whose ancestors had taken their ancestors many centuries before from the upper regions of light into the lower regions of darkness. The original stocks of these horrible creatures were very much the same as the animals now seen about farms and homes in the country, with the exception of a few of them, which had been wild creatures, such as foxes, and indeed wolves and small bears, which the goblins, from their proclivity towards the animal creation, had caught when cubs and tamed. But in the course of time all had undergone even greater changes than had passed upon their owners. They had altered—that is, their descendants had altered—into such creatures as I have not attempted to describe except in the vaguest manner—the various parts of their bodies assuming, in an apparently arbitrary and self-willed manner, the most abnormal developments. Indeed, so little did any distinct type predominate in some of the bewildering results, that you could only have guessed at any known animal as the original, and even then, what likeness remained would be more one of general expression than of definable conformation. But what increased the gruesomeness tenfold was that, from constant domestic, or indeed rather family association with the goblins, their countenances had grown in grotesque resemblance to the human.”

I find the lack of illustrations about this image (especially because of its relevance to the plot) particularly interesting because The Princess and the Goblin  was written by a pastor, six years after the publication of The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. The changes that take place over generations, in response to a radical change in environment, as described by the narrator of The Princess and the Goblin, sound an awful lot like Darwin’s theory of evolution. I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that the theory of evolution was so new and controversial at the time the book was first published.

Perhaps there are copies I have not seen that do include artistic renderings of the strange domestic animals. I must admit, I have yet to look at all seventeen copies available at The Osborne Collection. However, in the books I did look through, there were many illustrations of the same key moments in the plot. Many of them depict images that, after reading the text, I remember very clearly and I would have liked to see how others imagined the cat-like creature.

All photos were taken from books at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library:

1. MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1920. Illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

2.  MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. London: Puffin Classics, 1974. Illustrated by Arthur Hughes.

3. MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. London: Strahan  & Co., Publishers, 1872. Illustrated by Arthur Hughes.

4. MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1913. Illustrated by Maria L. Kirk.

5. MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Gobin. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1958. Illustrated by Charles Folkard.


Filed under Mel Rhodes Gray

Hunting the Hunter

This was supposed to be a post about Aesop’s fables. But scanning the bookshelves in the Osborne Collection study room, my eyes lit upon two fat, stripy tomes of Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. I pulled Volume I off the shelf, slapped it open, and stabbed blindly at an entry, sortes Vergilianae-style. And whose name should I find under my spatulate fingertip but Herne the Hunter’s? He, along with Arawn, Orion, and Actaeon had been haunting (or should I say hunting?) my mind all week, thanks to the awesome genius of Diana Wynne Jones as manifested in her book Dogsbody, which I’d had the pleasure to read only recently (I bow my head in shame). If you have not yet had the chance to relish this book and would like to do so unmolested by spoilers, I suggest you avail yourself of the back button. But if you’re already familiar with the novel, or have a superhuman immunity to spoilers, read on!

Briefly, Dogsbody tells of how Sirius the Dog Star escapes his imprisonment as a white, red-eared dog on Earth. What delighted me and absolutely blew me away about Dogsbody was the slightly slippery character of the “Master.” The Master is the apparent lord of the underworld (or at least, otherworld) in the novel. Every month under the full moon, he emerges into our world and leads his white, red-eared dogs on a wild hunt in which, paradoxically, he is both the hunter and the hunted. Sirius at some point joins this hunt out of necessity, and finds that he and the other hounds are sometimes running beside the Master, sometimes pursuing the Master. At the end of the hunt, his dogs devour him. The Master is then instantly reborn, whereupon he and his hounds retreat to his mysterious, otherworldly abode, which seems to be enclosed in a large mound of earth (yes, space in speculative fiction is a funny thing). He is also often referred to as a “child of Earth.” I hope this all sounds moderately familiar to you.

While his appearance is never fully disclosed, his head is said to be permanently shrouded in darkness and he is described as having “branched horns” on his head, which immediately put me in the mind of Herne the Hunter, whom I first encountered in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. (As a side note, Herne in Cooper’s book bears a striking resemblance to the forest guardian in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.)

Herne is the resident spectre and keeper of Windsor Forest in Berkshire, England, whose most notable feature is that he has antlers. He often appears (I know not to whom) riding on horseback, accompanied by other wild huntsman and his captured souls in a sort of Wild Hunt [1]. According to the Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols, Herne is a “malevolent spirit” who “roams through the forest, especially in the vicinity of an old tree called Herne’s oak,” [2] though there is no sinister note in either Jones’ or Cooper’s depictions of Herne.

Our earliest reference to Herne is in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor:

MISTRESS PAGE: Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.               (4.4.26-36)

Herne is of most confused origin. The Wikipedia entry for Herne suggests a few theories, which are quite interesting. In his book, The History of the Devil, R. Lowe Thompson suggests a relationship to Herlekin/Hellekin/Herlichin/Hellechin, etc. (whence we get Harlequin [3]), the Wild Huntsman “leader of la maisnie Hellequin, a troop of demons who rode the night air on horses [4]. He also speculates that Herne may be cognate with a truncated form of Cernunnos, the horned god in Celtic polytheism, just as horn is cognate with the Latin cornu (“horn”). At the very least, he’s probably right when he says that “these two forms have been derived from the same palaeolithic ancestor and can, indeed, be regarded as two aspects of one central figure’ [5].

Oddly enough, Herne is not mentioned anywhere in Dogsbody, perhaps because he is the most obvious folkloric/mythical figure to identify. Other references to mythical figures are explicitly made, however [6]:

The Master said uneasily, “Don’t look too closely. The truth [of his form] has no particular shape.”
“I know that,” Kathleen sad, rather impatiently. Her eyes stayed watching the space above the Master’s head for all that. “But you’re not Arawn, are you?” she said.
The boys had seen the Master for the first time. They were both terrified. Robin’s teeth chattered and he said, “But he could be Orion or Actaeon, couldn’t he?”
“Or John Peel,” Basil said, very derisively because he was so scared.

Sirius wondered what the three humans had understood about the Master that he had not. It was clear that the Master knew they had understood it, by the way he changed the subject.

First of all, I love this delightful moment of metafiction. Jones has her characters identify the Master with the very mythical figures which she, the author, has appropriated to create the Master. She comments on her narrative from within the selfsame narrative. It’s comparable to a footnote, a laced-in footnote whispering, “By the by, I used such-and-such figures to create my character.” I love how smoothly Jones flashes her cards; there’s no jarring effect because it is perfectly natural, arguably almost expected, that the children should liken him to the aforementioned mythical figures. For readers who don’t recognize before this juncture that the Master is a synthesis of various mythical beings, or that he is borrowed from mythology, this serves to clue them in; for readers already in the know, it is a moment of acknowledging, as Farah Mendlesohn puts it, the “delicious collusion” between author and reader. I confess I was rather of the former category, since I only recalled Herne, who is left unmentioned, even though citing only Arawn, Orion, and Actaeon did strengthen my suspicion that Herne had been a model for the Master. But “clue in” is an understatement; I was left rather unattractively open-mouthed: 1) I was a tad chagrined I’d totally missed seeing Orion and Actaeon–all the signs were there! 2) Leave it to Diana Wynne Jones to cleverly conflate mythical figures from across cultures. I really don’t think I exaggerate when I call her a genius. But I digress in this eulogy (admiration for Diana Wynne Jones will out!).

Being uninitiated in the world of Welsh mythology and its hellish pronunciation, I had to look up Arawn (ah-ROWN). Arawn is the lord of Annwfn/Annwn (an-OON), the Brythonic Otherworld, which is “located either on the face of the earth, under the earth, or over or under the sea” [7]. This Otherworld was a Celtic Elysium, a paradise, and later Christianized as the land of the dead [8]. Arawn is “a master of animals and the hunt, closely linked with the stag…an enricher of humanity”–interestingly,  “all attributes of Cernunnos” [9]. He is the lucky owner of the magic cauldron coveted by Arthur, in addition to a pack of hounds, “dazzling bright white and with red ears” [10].

This colouring is the hallmark “of the Otherworldly origins, according to a deeply rooted tradition found throughout the British Isles,” a hallmark shared by the hounds of Gwyn ap Nudd (gween ap neethe) [11], Arawn’s successor, who is depicted in medieval poetry as a psychopomp, one who escorts the dead to the underworld [12]. He is associated with a form of the Wild Hunt motif found in “nearly all parts of the world”. The Wild Hunt, clearly what Sirius participates in, is when “ghostly hunters…ride through the sky on stormy evenings…The phantom host, its horses and dogs (ratchet hounds, Gabriel’s hounds, etc.), make a wild noise in the night” [13]. The noise is explained as the honking of migrating geese or other birds [14]. Gwyn ap Nudd’s hounds are the Cŵn Annwn (coon an-OON), “hounds of Annwn,” just one of the many packs of spectral hounds in British folklore. Other such hounds are Gabriel Hounds, Ratchets, Yell/Yeth/Yeff Hounds–the Master’s chief dog is fittingly named Yeff–and what have you. So much for Welsh mythology.

I’m sure you know of Orion, the storied hunter (and intemperate lover) of mythological and astral fame. He cleared Chios of wild beasts, and in some stories hunts with Artemis. The point in the muddled myth of Orion that concerns us is his birth. Hesiod reports that Orion was the son of Poseidon and Euryale, Minos’ daughter (not the Gorgon!). There appears to be another tradition in which he was gegenes, a son of Ge/Gaia, i.e. Earth. Still there is another version, which as far as I can tell is not the same as the previous one, wherein Orion is again (sort of) a child of Ge. Poseidon, Zeus, and Hermes decided one day to kick their heels at the house of Hyrieus, either a king or humble peasant, himself a son of Poseidon (which has funny ramifications) and Alkyone, Atlas’ daughter. Hyrieus entertained the gods, disguised as men, so well that they revealed themselves and promised to grant him anything he asked. He asked for a son (he was childless, naturally)  [15]. Here, I resort to Joseph Fontenrose’s lovely summary  [16]:

The gods then took the hide of the ox that had been slaughtered for their dinner, spread it out, and cast their seed upon it–or, as most sources express it, they urinated on it. They told Hyrieus to bury the hide underground for ten months and then take it up. At the end of the allotted time a boy was born from the buried hide (i.e., from the earth), and Hyrieus named him Urion after the manner of his conception (ouron), later altered to Orion.

Ouron means urine, in case that wasn’t obvious. Charming name, though I’m sure this is just a case of the ancients’ collective penchant for false etymologizing.

In this version, Poseidon and Ge are again in some sense parents of Orion, despite that fact that Ge was not consulted (would this be a form of rape, I wonder?). Poseidon shares his fatherhood with Zeus and Hermes, and if Hyrieus is to be considered Orion’s father, then Poseidon is also his grandfather [17]. Simultaneously, if Poseidon is Orion’s father, then Orion is also Hyrieus’ brother. Clearly the ancients were masters of doublethink.

So the Master can be Orion because they are both children of Earth. Even more fundamentally, the Master is Orion because Sirius is his dog. Curiously, I could not find any mention of Sirius in the summarized myths of Orion I’d read; he appears to be connected with Orion only apropos of the constellation. Zeus is said to have placed Sirius in the sky beside his master. Homer’s Iliad  (mentions Orion the constellation [18] and “Orion’s Dog” as the star [19] (it makes no mention of Orion the hunter); the Odyssey describes Orion the hunter in Hades, but he is sans dog [20]. Most likely, when the Orion constellation was identified with and named for the already well-known mythical figure, the former had affected the latter and the Greeks felt the need to invent and explain the hitherto nonexistent catasterism of the hunter [21]. Likewise, the Dog Star could have been identified as the dog of Orion, and inserted into the catasterism myth. But, disregarding this nicety, of course there was never any doubt that Sirius would join the Master’s Wild Hunt, since he must, perforce, if the Master is Orion.

It might also be worth noting that Orion is dead. That is, if he did indeed once exist, he is now dead. Homer tells in the Odyssey that Odysseus sees Orion in the underworld. So it’s not surprising that the Master as Orion should be found in a sort of underworld (under a mound, or Annwn as later recognized as the world of the dead), notwithstanding that he is at the same time supposed to be in the firmament (Orion the constellation also figures in the novel, in the same way that Sirius the Dog-Star does).

Lastly, Actaeon is another Greek hunter, who was metamorphosed into a stag by Artemis and posthaste devoured by his own dogs. He is uncannily similar to Orion visà-vis their relationship with Artemis. In various sources, Orion was “a companion, even a lover, of the huntress goddess Artemis, and she favored him” and he wanted to marry her [22]; ditto for Actaeon [23]. Orion offended Artemis by attempting to rape her or her nymph, Opis; by merely challenging her to a discus-throwing contest or boasting that he was a better hunter than she; or by becoming the lover of Eos [24]. Indeed, Actaeon offended her also by attempting rape or intruding on her bath; by boasting that he was the better hunter; or by becoming the lover of Semele [25]. Both were duly punished by the aggrieved party and posthumously worshipped in certain Hellenic cities [26].

Basil’s sarcastic remark aside, the kids get it right. The Master is Arawn, Orion, Actaeon, Herne, and who knows what else. I like how Jones is able to thread these figures together by their commonality of huntsmanship, and that she was able to discern that commonality (or maybe I’m just uncommonly dense), because beyond that, they’re quite different. Moreover, Herne, Arawn, Orion, and Actaeon don’t simply get amalgamated; that suggests too blended a whole. Nor does Jones’ incorporation of each figure’s singular traits, probably as clues or cues, create a unique character who is made of pieces. That is, the Master is not made up of a bit of Herne, a dash of Arawn, a pinch of Orion, and a splash of Actaeon; he is not Frankenstein. It is not that the Master is in part all of those four, or that he can be any one of those four and probably more, but that he is wholly each of them and all of them at the same time, layered transparently atop one another.

Next week, I will eschew fat, stripy books.

1. Herne the Hunter.
2. p. 494, Leach, Maria, and Jerome Fried. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, V.1, by Maria Leach and Jerome Fried. Published in New York by Funk & Wagnalls in 1949.
3. Harlequin.
4. Harlequin, Ibid.
p. 133, The History of the Devil (1929) by R. Lowe Thompson.
5. p. 133, Ibid.
6. p. 175, Dogsbody (1975) by Diana Wynne Jones.
7. p. 63, Funk and Wagnalls, V.1.
8. Annwn.
9. p. 100, Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses: A Guide to Their Spiritual Power, Healing Energies, and Mystical Joy (2005) by Carl McColman and Kathryn Hinds.
10. The Mabinogi of Pwyll
11. The Mabinogi of Pwyll.
12. p. 100, McColman and Hinds.
13. p. 1177, Funk and Wagnalls.
14. p. 1177, Ibid.
15. p. 7, Orion: The Myth of the Hunter and the Huntress (1981) by Joseph Fontenrose.
16. p. 7, Ibid.
17. 18.568, The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles.
18. 22.35, Ibid.
19. 11.656-660, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles.
20. p. 7, Fontenrose.
21. p. 17-18, Ibid.
22. p. 19, Ibid.
23. p. 41, Ibid.
24. p. 19, Ibid.
25. p. 41, Ibid.
26. p. 20, 42, Ibid.


Filed under Mufei Jiang

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

A pleasing land of drowsy head it was

Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;

And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,

For ever flushing round a summer sky.

“The Castle of Indolence” by James Thomson, epigraph from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

While my niece decimated  an enormous pile of  bronzed leaves this autumn, around the time of Hallowe’en,  I distracted myself from the thought of raking them all up again with the dreamy imagery and descriptive passages I found in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. We were not all that far away from the setting of that story–on the eastern banks of the Hudson River–so, I imagined the scenery was much the same.

Unfortunately, a trip to Sleepy Hollow (to confirm) is out of the question right now. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place in “one of the quietest places in the whole world,” which I was certainly not in at the time, and in a “remote period of American history,”  but, this illustration from a copy of the story, that I later found at The Osborne Collection, looks a lot like the scene I was standing in:

It also added the element of sailing to this new daydream of mine though, and I like that much better than the idea of an eight hour car ride.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow  was meant to be somewhat of a daydream kind of story, from what I can tell by reading it. It opens with a long description of the setting, a magical place, “under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.”

I knew I would find great illustrations in the books I looked at in The Osborne Collection, and I was not disappointed. I have included photos of two of the copies they have available to view because they are so different but the illustrations were both gorgeous and reflect the imaginative tone of the story itself.

The photo above, and immediately below comes from a copy printed in 1906, with illustrations by, Arthur Ignatius Keller:

The second edition I looked at was published in 1926. It has beautiful drawings by Frances Brundage:

I have not yet shared this particular story with my niece. It was Halloween while I was visiting with her, so a ghost-story may have been in order, but she only recently turned 3 years old and her eyes still light up with surprise when anyone else seems to know the secret of “trick-or-treat.” So, it is a little too soon, but I look forward to sharing it with her someday.

It is a great ghost-story: it was found among the papers of a dead man and set in a bewitched location where anything might happen. At the same time, it makes reference to “most authentic historians,” and the Revolutionary War. The Headless Horseman is believed to be the ghost of a Hessian Soldier, “whose head had been carried away by a cannon ball.”

Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher and singing instructor moves to Sleepy Hollow from Connecticut. Tall and lanky, he moves from house to house, gossiping with housewives and flirting with the young women in town. He especially likes listening to the women tell local ghost stories, which is how he comes to hear the story of the headless horseman.

Crane has hopes of marrying one of his singing students, Katrina Van Tassel. She is eighteen years old, beautiful, and charming, but Crane is particularly interested in her because her father is wealthy and he especially likes the food at her house. Brom Bones is also courting Katrina and he would like to fight Crane for the right to court her exclusively. Crane refuses to fight, so Bones resorts to playing practical jokes on him.

One night, Mr. Van Tassel hosts a party for everyone in the village. Crane spends the night eating and swapping ghost stories with his neighbours. Before he leaves, he approaches Katrina to ask for her hand in marriage. No one knows what was said, but Crane leaves the party that night looking dejected.

“It was the very witching time of night” that Crane began his ride home alone. Along the way he sees a large shadowy figure on horseback and he can just make out the shape of a head on the pommel of the saddle. Crane races away on his own horse, Gunpowder, but he is chased and knocked unconscious. The last thing he remembers is the sight of the rider about to throw the head at him.

Crane is not seen in the village again. A search party finds his belongings on the road, beside a smashed pumpkin. With his rival out of the way, Brom Bones marries Katrina and Crane becomes a character in one of his favourite Sleepy Hollow ghost stories.

My summary does no justice to the descriptive passages in the story. You can read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow online at Project Gutenberg.  Or, you could go to The Osborne Collection to see a much more charming edition of the story.

All photos were taken at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library, from:

1. Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1906.Illustrations by Arthur Ignatius Keller. Presented to the Osborne Collection by Tony Hall.

2. Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: The Salfield Publishing Company, 1926.  Illustrations by  Frances Brundage. Presented to the Osborne Collection from the estate of Erica McClocklin.

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Filed under Mel Rhodes Gray

The 5th Annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture: TinTin: A Hero for the 21stC

Last Thursday, I stole out of my evening class at half-past seven to scurry off to this Tintin lecture to be given by Tintinologist Michael Farr, a 20 minute walk away. I know now to steal out earlier next time. I was certainly not prepared, as I descended into the bowels of the library, for the congregation I’d find in the lecture room, spilling out from the seats and onto the walls. Low kiddy benches (or tables?) had to be sent for to accommodate the spillage. I was one such spilth who was lucky enough to get even a patch of a table (or bench?), which Mel graciously yielded to me, since we’d worked out that I’d be blogging about this event (taking notes while standing isn’t fun).

We’d decided this because I used to love Tintin as a child when I lived in Belgium, Hergé’s own country. I used to watch the shows on TV, though I can’t remember any of it now. A quick search online informs me that I must have watched Les Aventures de Tintin by Belvision–an odd feeling it is to have such sources as Wikipedia tell you about your past. I’d hoped that perhaps Michael Farr’s talk might awaken some latent vestiges of Tintinophily in me, but no such luck. That didn’t prevent me, however, from enjoying his lecture. An hour of cramped perching on a corner of bench (or table?) taught me that the Tintin comics had an interesting relationship with real life:

1) That the comics were heavily indebted to real life and research. I was surprised to learn that several of his main characters were each inspired by a real person in his life. Hergé’s inspiration for the eponymous adventurer was his own younger brother, Paul, a soldier, whose colleagues later saw the resemblance and consequently christened him “Major Tintin,” to which Paul responded with a new haircut, which he liked and kept ever afterward. Hergé, ever on the lookout for material it seems, then created a villain, Colonel Sponsz, with the same coif.

1. Tintin, Paul Rémi, and Colonel Sponsz.

Tintin’s furry companion, Milou, or Snowy, as we call him in English, was named after Hergé’s first girlfriend Maggie-Louise, or Malou for short. The detectives Thomson and Thompson were inspired by Hergé’s father and uncle, who affected bowler hats, umbrellas, and large moustaches. I discovered that the duo aren’t really twins, evidently, as the latter’s name is spelt “with a ‘P’ as in psychology.” Nor are Thomson and Thompson their original names. In French, they were initially referred to as X33 and X33bis (or X33b) and later named Dupont et Dupond. In Spanish, they are Hernandez y Fernandez. (And in Latin, Clodius et Claudius.) Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard was the model for Professor Calculus, though the original was so tall that Calculus had to be shrunk to be able to fit into the frame.

2. Professor Calculus and Auguste Piccard.

Chang Chong-Chen, good friend of Tintin’s, was based on a good friend of Hergé’s, Zhang Chongren. They met when Zhang was an art student in Brussels and when Hergé was looking for someone to verify the accuracy of his depictions of China in the next Tintin installment, The Blue Lotus. They were the same age, had the same zodiac sign, and became fast friends. Sadly, they were separated later in life and Hergé, after much searching, was only reunited with Zhang just a few years before his own death.

3. Zhang and Hergé with Tintin and Chang Chong-Chen behind them.

And to mention a minor character, the extremely obnoxious Abdullah was modeled after Faisal II of Iraq.

4. Faisal II at age 5 and Abdullah.

Hergé was also a hoarder of newspaper clippings and pictures, which he kept in an impossibly incomprehensible filing system. Often he used these pictures as templates for his own drawings, sometimes copying almost entire backgrounds.

5. Original photo and frame from The Blue Lotus.

Funnily, he was averse to opera, until he discovered Maria Callas, wherefore the opera singer Bianca Castafiore (whom Haddock despises) was glamourized, often decked in such designers as Chanel and Dior. Hergé clothed her in real couture pieces that came out the same year as the issue in which Bianca appeared.

6. Bianca Castafiore, in a Chanel dress of that year, trundling poor Haddock.

2) That the comics were based on and exceeded real life. One particular building featured in the comics is the Hotel Cornavin in Geneva, depicted with admirable accuracy. Professor Calculus stays here in The Calculus Affair and for a time, there was a cardboard Tintin in the nonfictional hotel advising, “Please do not ask to stay in Room 122. It doesn’t exist.”

7. Real Hotel Cornavin and Hotel Cornavin with Room 122.

In Destination Moon, Tintin and company landed on the moon 19 years before Neil Armstrong, in realistic circumstances, and then came back. Hergé was meticulous in his research, and Tintin’s expedition was executed with the best technology available at the time.

3) That pure inventions in the comics came true! One main character who did not have a real-life counterpart was Captain Haddock. Hergé was stumped for a name for the seafarer, when he asked his wife what she was preparing for dinner, and she replied with “that boring fish they name ‘haddock’ in English.” As far as Hergé knew, he’d made the name up, it wasn’t a real surname. It turned out, however, as these things often do, that there was in fact a Sir Richard Haddock in the 17th century, an admiral to boot, and with a distinguished naval pedigree!

8. Captain Haddock and Sir Richard Haddock.

It was enlightening to see how much Tintin owed to research; the comics had essentially a dialogue with reality. I had been carrying the unaccountable, ignorant notion that while authors did do their research, most of their work was pure invention. I certainly didn’t think anybody stocked newspaper cutouts for future reference, but probably that has now been obsoleted by the internet. And perhaps that Hergé was an artist too accounts for his need for visual models. By the end of that hour, Hergé seemed almost more researcher than comic book creator to me–not unlike an academic!

All this and much more can be found in Michael Farr’s Tintin: The Complete Companion, first published in London by John Murray in 2001.

All images of drawn Tintin characters are of course © Hergé.

1. “clip-art-tintin-369483.jpg.” Image from “Tintin Clip art.” (10 November 2011).

Mortimer, Ben. “paulremi.gif.” Image from “Looking For Tintin In Brussels.” (10 November 2011).

Comic Vine. “1164576-herg___aka_georges_r_mi__cartoon_018___colonel_sponsz_as_esponja_large.” Image from “Colonel Sponsz.” (10 November 2011).

2. Image courtesy of the Osborne Collection, Toronto Public Libraries (3 November 2011).

3. “Zhang_and_Herge_in_1981.jpg.” Image from “Zhang Chongren.” (10 November 2011).

4. “Faisal2_5_edit1.jpg.” Image from “Faisal II of Iraq.” (10 November 2011).

Tintin Wiki. “Abdullah.jpg.” Image from “Abdullah.” (10 November 2011).

5. Photo image courtesy of the Osborne Collection, Toronto Public Libraries (3 November 2011).

Humbert, Frederic. “2480175243_c1e10fd1ae.jpg.” Image from “Colonial Rugby… China, 1929.” (10 November 2011).

6. de Dardel, François. “Castafiore.gif.” Image from “Tintin’s Cars, page two.” (10 November 2011).

7. “geneve8_5.jpg.”Image from “mortimer à l’hotel cornavin.” (10 November 2011).

Karasyuk, Dmitry. “1277b.jpg.” Image from “Tintin in Hotel Cornavin.” (10 November 2011).

8. Joffre. “Haddock.jpg.” Image from “Dad Is Like Captain Haddock.” (10 November 2011).

“Sir_Richard_Haddock.jpg.” Image from “Richard Haddock.” (10 November 2011).

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