Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Finding Lost Books

One of the most common types of emails I have received over the years are from readers desperately searching for the particular collection of fairy tales they grew up with, the exact volume that held the particular stories and illustrations that first sparked their imaginations and began their love of the fantastic and wonderful.

Alas, only a very small percentage have been identified. While I have acquired an extensive knowledge and personal library of Golden Age illustrations (dating roughly 1880 to 1920), most searchers are looking for books published later, usually within a decade or two of their births. There are literally hundreds of possibilities since fairy tale collections have been a staple of many publishers great and small for decades. There are high quality collections with well-known illustrators but there are many more obscure collections that were more generic in nature with little known illustrators, many collections published with a "pulp" attitude of churning them out at low pricing for high profit margins with little concern for quality or accuracy. I'm not insulting these collections--they have contributed to the continuing popularity and availability of fairy tales. They are just very, very hard to identify and track down because they were not intended to be timeless, but rather disposable children's books.

The collection that I grew up with was Best Loved Fairy Tales Published By Parents' Magazine, pictured at the top of this post. Mine has a very important inscription:

April 1979 Easter

Heidi dear:

There are some of the stories you requested at Christmas. I know you will enjoy them as your mother and I enjoyed them.

Love, Grandma

I had requested Beauty and the Beast (not as commonly anthologized as one would think) and we spent much of the Christmas holidays trying to track it down. Grandma didn't give up and finally found it in this collection and mailed it to me. I devoured it many times over the years. Then let it capture dust for many more until I returned to it a few years after I started SurLaLune. I then realized that my love for the Golden Age Illustrators (many represented on SurLaLune) began here since the collection reproduces their work--not in high quality, but in grainy, flat images.. The Beauty and the Beast illustrations are by Walter Crane and thus remain some of my favorites to this day and rather explain why I was compelled to build a site like SurLaLune. So I understand the yearning and searching for lost fairy tale books. I am fortunate that mine wasn't given away, lost, destroyed or otherwise reacquired by the fair folk.

I suspect another popular collection is The World's Best Fairy Tales, A Reader's Digest Anthology since Reader's Digest books have been rather ubiquitous to many households over the years.

Another series is Andrew Lang's Colored Fairy Books, twelve in all, from the Blue to the Lilac. This series has rarely been out of print, thanks to Dover Publications, but the editions including the full color illustrations and not just the pen and inks are rare and expensive. For this reason, fans should rejoice that Dover is publishing Maidens, Monsters and Heroes: The Fantasy Illustrations of H. J. Ford in February 2010.

However, hands down, the most commonly sought collection has been The Golden Book of Fairy Tales by Adrienne Segur. Other Golden Books have also been popular including The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies and The Snow Queen and Other Tales. (I didn't have any of these in my childhood, but Golden has been important in some way to almost every reader I have met. My personal favorite from Golden is still The Monster at the End of this Book.)

The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies was reprinted last year after selling used for crazy prices but it is not guaranteed to stay in print so if this is one of your cherished memories, get it soon. The Golden Book of Fairy Tales by Adrienne Segur has been in print again for a while now, but it isn't guaranteed to stay that way either. When it does, its prices will skyrocket, too. It's that precious to so many.

Alas, The Snow Queen and Other Tales was reprinted not long ago, but it is already out of print again and selling for astronomical prices.

This post isn't just a walk down memory lane. I wanted to recommend some methods for finding "lost" books, be they fairy tales or not. The best location on the web for finding helpful and knowledgeable book sleuths is BookSleuth boards on AbeBooks. If the book is fairy tale related, you can also post on the SurLaLune Discussion Board.

If you do post your question on the board, please give as many details as possible to help others identify your tale. The following information is usually very helpful:

1) A rough estimate of the year you remember reading the story such as the actual year or at least a generalization of a decade.

2) As many details of the story--such as characters, setting, and plot--as you can remember. If there were illustrations, were they in color or black and white? Any details about the cover are sometimes helpful, too.

3) Try to remember if the story was in a collection of stories or a picture book, in other words a single story book with many illustrations. If it was in a collection, what were some of the other stories?

BookSleuth also has its own tips for using its boards. Read them!

Finally, please, don't email me with your requests but use the above methods instead. I will see your post on the SurLaLune boards. My email load is massive and I don't have the resources to answer every email, let alone to research each question sent to me. (I'm not a walking encyclopedia and most questions require time to answer. Even if I know the answer without research, I usually find ways of verifying it in the email.) Too many times I have felt generous and spent up to an hour searching for an answer or writing a response, sent it and never received a reply to know if my efforts even helped. My approach after 11 years of running this website single-handed is that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. I allocate my time to providing information to all with website updates and now writing this blog. If a question is easily answered or sparks my interest, you may get personal service, but the chances are slim. Try these other methods instead. And good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what an amazing post. Thank you for all your work on this.

    You and your readers might be interested to know that I have a podcast where I read the old fairy tales. It is called Knitlark Lane. You don't need an ipod to listen. You can listen on your computer (totally free) or through Itunes (also free). I just do it because, like you, I love fairy tales.

    Just Google Knitlark Lane or email me at, and I will send you the link.

    The most recent fairy tale reading is Princess Mayblossom from Lang's Red Fairy Book. (I am also reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame on alternate weeks)

    Again, thanks for a great blog, and I hope you will give my podcast a listen some time.