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Searching for Fear

Gregory the Raccoon’s tale is a retelling of a story that originated in Central Asia, adapted by Andrew Lang and his collaborators from Turkische Volksmarchen by Von Dr. Ignaz Kunos. The Boy Who Found Fear at Last appeared in Lang’s The Olive Fairy Book published originally in 1907. H.J. Ford as illustrator, along with Lang’s wife, collaborated on a series of books of fairy lore from around the world; the books were published between 1889 and 1910.

In his preface to The Olive Fairy Book, Lang described his “discovery” by describing that his friend and publisher, Mr. Charles Longman, years before had presented him with Le Cabinet des Fees ("The Fairy Cabinet.") These, Lang explains, were Charles Perrault’s fairytales, those collected, written and printed in Paris in 1697. Perrault, Lang wrote, “…never dreamed that he was to be remembered mainly by the shabby little volume with the tiny headpiece pictures…”*

Lang’s description of Perrault might well describe Lang himself who was born in 1844 in Selkirkshire, Scotland and after studying at Edinburgh Academy and the Universities of St. Andrews and Glasgow, where he graduated first in Greats, moved to London. There he became one of the most well-known journalists and writers of his day. He was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, hostile to the novels of Henry James, one of the first critics to recognize the talents of many of that era's finest writers. A scholar, historian, anthropologist, biographer, editor, and essayist, Lang published dozens of books, and yet, in most circles he is best known for his vast anthropological research into myth and folklore and his collections of folk and fairy tales from around the world.

The first of these collections, The Blue Fairy Book, appeared in 1891, and over the next 20 years The Green, Yellow, Violet, Lilac, Pink, Grey, Crimson, Brown, Orange and Olive Fairy Books followed as did The Arabian Night's Entertainments, The Story of the Golden Fleece, and others.

Lang understood the hunger children have for folklore, and for him the best collections for children were the German tales collected by the Grimms, the Norse tales by Sir G.W. Dasent, and Miss Frere’s Indian stories. Lang wanted children to choose their own books. As he wrote in the preface:

“Let their friends give them the money and turn them loose in the book shops ! They know their own tastes, and if children are born bookish, while their dear parents are the reverse, (and this does occur !), then the children make the better choice. …

No wonder Andrew Lang’s stories are priceless. He understood, as wise children do, that there is nothing like a tale for imparting the sort of wisdom Gregory learns as he goes out to search for fear.

*(Although Lang refers to Charles Perrault as the earliest collector of folklore, in fact in 1634-6 Giambattista Basile published Il Pentamerone, a collection of European literary fairy tales, predating Perrault by 50 years and the Grimms by 200. But Il Pentamerone wasn’t translated into English (from Neapolitan dialect) until 1874, and so, although it contains such well known tales as Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Perrault’s collections became more widely known.)