Folio Society ‘Classic’ Fairy Tale Books | Golden Age Illustrators | Beautiful Books


This video is dedicated to what I would call
a ‘loose’ collection of classic fairy tales by the Folio Society. The books were not officially released as
part of a collection, but the size and binding designs are complementary, and most of the
works are facsimiles of volumes that were released during the period known as the “golden
age of illustration,” which lasted from the 1880s until shortly after WWI. Many of the binding designs were redrawn by
David Eccles from original work by the illustrators. William Heath Robinson was an English cartoonist
and illustrator best known for drawings of ridiculously complicated machines for achieving
simple tasks, and in the UK the term “Heath Robinson contraption” was used during WWI
in much the same way that “Rube Goldberg Machine” is used today in the US. He first illustrated Hans Christian Andersen’s
Danish Fairy Tales and Legends in 1897, and then again in 1913 when he illustrated Anderson’s
Fairy Tales, the book on which the Folio Society edition is based. This edition contains 17 of Andersen’s most
famous tales, including ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Snow
Queen’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’. Robinson’s illustrations are lovely and
the book includes 16 colour plates and numerous black & white illustrations. The Folio Society volume of fairy tales by
the Brothers Grimm is drawn from the mammoth collection first published in 1909 and illustrated
by Arthur Rackham. It features 40 full-color plates, plus over
60 black-and-white spot elements, and feels quite luxurious to read. Rackham is, of course, probably the best known
of the golden age of illustrators, and Folio have published several volumes featuring his
work. When Charles Perrault, a civil servant in
Paris in the 17th century, heard his son’s nurse recounting old French folk stories,
he wrote them down, for fun. This edition is taken from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s
1910 “The Sleeping Beauty and Other Tales from the Old French” and other tales translated
by Robert Samber, complemented here by 30 colour paintings of Edmund Dulac, as well
as black and white headpieces at the start of each story. Edmund Dulac was a French-born British naturalized
illustrator, who – in addition to his beautiful children’s and fantasy illustrations – was
also responsible for designing banknotes during WWII as well as several sets of postage stamps. First published in 1914, East of the Sun and
West of the Moon is a celebrated collection of fifteen fairy tales, gathered by legendary
Norwegian folklorists Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe on their journeys across Norway
in the mid-nineteenth century. Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen provided 25
colour plates and 21 monochrome images for this collection, and the artwork is widely
considered a jewel of early 20th-century children’s literature. The images were reproduced using a 4-colour
process in contrast to many of his contemporaries that used the more characteristic 3 colours. The cream binding on this facsimile is known
as “elephant hide,” which is a type of vegetable parchment. I adore Key Nielsen’s work and this is an
absolutely lovely volume, but it can be difficult to source second hand. If you’re interested, I think the recent
Taschen edition of this book is well worth the investment, as it reproduces the illustrations
in vivid detail, it has a beautifully redesigned very clear layout, and includes close-ups
and fascinating historical essays as well. I can make a comparison video if anyone is
interested, but in the meantime I’ll include a link to the Taschen edition in the description
box as well if you want to check it out. Edward Julius Detmold and his twin brother
Charles Maurice were prolific Victorian book illustrators, born in London in 1883. Their watercolours were influenced by traditional
Japanese art and the Art Nouveau movements, and their work was already being exhibited
at the Royal Academy when they were only 13. In 1903, at the age of twenty, the twins were
commissioned to produce 16 watercolours for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which
was tremendously successful, but tragically Maurice ended his life in 1908. Following this tragedy, Edward threw himself
into his work, and in 1909 he produced 23 colour plates and a host of pen and ink drawings
for The Fables of Aesop, and it is a facsimile of this edition which The Folio Society produced
in 2006. Edward became renowned as one of the most
talented illustrators of his time, particularly his depictions of plants and animals. In 1924, Hodder & Stoughton published The
Arabian Nights with 12 colour plates, a change of direction for the artist into the realms
of fantasy, and a facsimiles of this edition was published by the Folio Society in 2003. Edward was known to be very painstaking in
his work, so much so that he frequently missed deadlines, and shortly after this masterpiece
he retired completely from public life. Nathanial Hawthorne adapted the fanciful tales
for children in his Wonder Book from classical mythology. Contained within are such memorable stories
as The Gorgon’s Head, The Chimaera and The Golden Touch. The original volume was first published in
1852, but the Folio Society edition is based on the 1892 edition with 60 illustrations
by Walter Crane, including 19 colour plates. This volume was illustrated at the time when
the William Morris/Walter Crane inspired arts and crafts movement was at its height, and
the full-page colour illustrations are classics of their type. The Wonder Book was followed by a ‘second
wonder book’ known as Tanglewood Tales, a re-writing of more of the ancient Greek
myths for children. This volume includes Theseus and the Minotaur
and Jason and the Golden Fleece. This volume is based on the 1918 edition illustrated
by Edmund Dulac – who also did Perrault’s Fairy Tales as I mentioned earlier, and includes
14 full-colour plates. Lamb’s adaptations of 20 plays, first published
in 1807, use small excerpts from Shakespeare, and retain some of the feeling of the original,
but they pare away sub-plots and characters, and sanitize situations, to make relatively
simple stories appropriate for children. This reproduction of a 1909 edition contains
12 colour plates each by a different artist. I would consider it interesting from a historical
point of view, but the archaic language and lack of illustrations could be a turn off
for most modern children. Far superior, I think, is the Folio Society
version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a truly lovely edition. I am sure most of you are familiar with the
story, which includes the adventures of young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors,
who are manipulated by the fairies. The text of this edition is taken from that
first published by Constable and Co. in 1914 and the treatment of the play is exquisite. From the title page, to the playful two-page
spread that closes the book, there are delights on nearly every page. There are 12 full-page colour plates, but
it is the variety of Robinson’s black-and-white illustrations — 32 full-page, along with
plentiful vignettes — that makes this book the ultimate graphic presentation of Shakespeare’s most beloved play. I also include in this collection one volume
with contemporary illustrations. The adventures of Robin Hood are here collected
and retold by Roger Lancelyn Green, a British children’s writer and contemporary of CS
Lewis and JRR Tolkien. The original version was published in 1956,
and it’s a lovely retelling, making use of many sources and portraying a wily Robin
and a capable Marian. The folio edition has some lovely contemporary
illustrations drawn in a classic period style by Cambridge artist John Holder. If you’d like to see more beautiful books,
please do hit subscribe. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments
section, thanks for listening, and I’ll see you again next time.

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