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Steeped in magic

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If you like fairy tales, youreally should know whoAndrew Lang is!

Fairy tales have a unique place in our spectrum of stories. They are almost always about realistic people faced with fantastical situations caused by unreal creatures, such as witches and fairies, giants and dwarves, ogres, elves, gnomes and trolls. Not to mention a few talking animals as well! They open up a world inhabited by humans which is infused with magic.

Fairy tales may have grown out of the more dramatic retellings of folktales. And folktales were dramatic by necessity. Early folk tales were meant for both children and adults, and a storyteller had to weave deep truths into an exciting, entertaining story. As the stories became bigger and stranger, they included elements of fantasy. In some ways fairy tales are the forerunners of modern fantasy fiction, except they don’t use an alternative universe a la The Wizard of Oz or The Lord of the Rings .

Many fairy tales have been told over the years and across cultures. Several compilations of fairy tales have been made over the years as well. The Panchatantra , believed to be written in the 3rd century BC, is one of the oldest. Between 1889 and 1910 Andrew Lang and his associates published one of the most comprehensive modern compilations of Western fairy tales in 12 volumes, which are collectively called Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books . Lang did not transcribe these stories from the oral versions himself, but he collected his stories from a very wide range of sources, including the Brothers Grimm and The Arabian Nights .

Lang faced much resistance early on from educationists who believed fairy tales to be harmful for young children and of no use to adults. However his books were very successful and he greatly popularised fairy tales in the late 19th century.

Besides fairy tales, Lang has made contributions to many other fields. The Scotsman wrote about religion, mythology, parapsychological phenomena, ancient Greek literature and history, among other things. He was the oldest of eight children and grew up in Selkirk, a town near the English border. A well-respected poet and journalist, the Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, are named after him.

The next time you read a fairy tale, remember, Andrew Lang probably edited it somewhere along the way!

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