Halloween Treats?: H. J. Ford’s Illustrations for Andrew Lang’s “Blue Fairy Book”

Halloween Stories & Images

Each holiday has its symbols and icons, but few can compete with Halloween, with its vivid cast of ghosts, goblins, witches, full moons, black cats, and the legion of supporting figures–all reborn for modern festive holiday amusement from a cast of spirit-world characters that originally had much less benevolent connotations.

"Halloween" detail from the frontispiece to the Blue Poetry Book by Andrew Lang (Longmans, 1891)

“Halloween” detail from the frontispiece to the Blue Poetry Book by Andrew Lang (Longmans, 1891)

Halloween’s origins date from a time when most people believed, quite literally, in the existence of fairies, sprites, ghosts, and supernatural beings lurking “out there” in the darkness.  Its antecedents include the Celtic end-of-summer rituals of Samhain, meant to ward off demons and evil spirits, other festive customs and holidays mitigating the gathering darkness of winter, and, of course, the early Christian religious holiday. All Saints Day–or the evening before a hallowed day, Hallow’s eve.  But in much the same way that fairies, giants, talking animals, and magical folklore creatures of all shapes and forms have been appropriated into the realm of childhood imagination, so too has Halloween.

Andrew Lang: Folklorist and Fairy Tale Anthologist

Andrew Lang (1844-1912) certainly looms large as one of the nineteenth-century figures who helped to integrate folklore and fairy tales into the canon of children’s literature.  Academic, writer, cultural anthropologist, folklorist, historian, translator, poet, novelist, and both a writer and compiler of children’s stories, Lang was an intellectual polyglot and something of a Victorian oddball in an era known for literary eccentricity.

A student of the famed Benjamin Jowett at Oxford’s BalliolCollege, Lang gained a First, was named a Fellow of Merton College, only to resign seven years later, following his marriage, and move to London for a writing career.

His output was prodigious. In Andrew Lang, Eleanor Langstaff puts Lang’s total literary and scholarly output at 120 books, 150 books edited or contributed to, and thousands of articles (Boston: Twayne, 1978, p. 149).

Lang became interested in folklore and anthropology at a time when both disciplines were in their formative stages as areas of study, and he made major contributions to scholarship in these areas, authoring a number of scholarly works and collections of folk tales.  Viewed in retrospect, these books suggest themes and ideas that would soon manifest themselves in Lang’s own collections of folk stories and fairy tales for children, as well as in works he authored himself.

In Myth, Ritual, and Religion (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1887 ) for instance, Lang explored the relation of myth and religion various cultures as part of what he termed an effort to “understand how, and when, and why the ancestors of the civilized races filled the blank of their past by tales about bestial gods and godlike beasts” (p. 1).

Cover of Book of Dreams & Ghosts (Longmans, 1897), suggesting distinctly Coleridgean hauntings.

Cover of Book of Dreams & Ghosts (Longmans, 1897), suggesting distinctly Coleridgean hauntings.

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1897), a “collection  of evidence” with multiple chapters on ghosts, “bogies,” and hauntings, Lang’s prefatory remarks provide historical and cultural context for this phenomenon.  Discussing ghosts, apparitions, and hallucinations, Lang referred to the “old doctrine of ‘ghosts,’ [which] regarded them as actual spirits of the living and the dead … a view of the simplest philosophy of the savage.” (p. vi).

Next he outlined how such apparitions had later been regarded as “the work of deceitful devils” by Reformation writers, how such “phantasms” and “apparitions” had been dismissed by “the common-sense of the eighteenth century,” and how such “hallucinatory appearances” were being addressed by “modern science” in the nineteenth-century and taken seriously as psychological phenomenon requiring explanation by investigators of the stature of William James, whose 1890 Principles of Psychology Lang cites.  Sometimes a ghost story was not just a ghost story.

Lang’s Colour Fairy Books

Cover of Lang's Green Fairy Book (Longmans, 1892)

Cover of Lang’s Green Fairy Book (Longmans, 1892)

These other works make it clear that Lang’s series of twelve different Colour Fairy Books, issued individually from 1889-1910, must be seen not only as collections of stories for children, but also as documentation of popular culture on a world-wide scale, guided by scholarly principles.  Lang, after all, included a citation of the source at the end of most selections in the Fairy Books, a feature presumably lost on younger readers.

And the range of materials collected is strikingly global.  In addition to sixty French fairy tales overall, (including those of d’Aulnoy and Perrault), the Fairy Books include fifty Scandinavian tales, as well as those originating from Africa, Japan, Germany, Hungary, the Middle East, and Native Americans.

Cover of the Yellow Fairy Book (Longmans, 1894)

Cover of the Yellow Fairy Book (Longmans, 1894)

In his preface to the Blue Fairy Book, the first of these books, Lang himself noted adaptations from Apollodorus, Simonides, and Pindar “by the editor,” as well as the somewhat surprising inclusion of a popular version of the “Voyage to Lilliput” from Gulliver’s Travels.

The Blue Fairy Book & Ford’s “Halloween” Illustrations


Cover of the Blue Fairy Book (Longmans, 1889)

Fairy tales and folklore generally involve the fantastical, the supernatural, and the otherworldly.  But even so, a number of Henry Justice Ford’s wood engraved illustrations in the Blue Fairy Book conjure up the idea of Halloween.

Before we even open the book, the uncredited, gilt-stamped design on the its midnight blue upper cover, presents a striking image of a broomstick-riding witch flying in front of a full moon.

This design seems intended to evoke generally the “phantasms, ghosts, and apparitions” from Lang’s spirit world that lurk in the pages within.  And it stands apart from cover designs of other, later, Fairy Books, which often feature fairies or versions of illustrations from a story within.

The Blue Fairy Book’s second tale, “Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess,” tells the story of a king seeking the hand of a princess foretold to marry only the man clever enough to tread on the tail of her beloved cat.  In Lang’s narrative, the cat, not surprisingly, “arches his back” at the potential malefactor.

Illustration from "Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess (Blue Fairy Book, p. 12), with Ford's signature on lower right.

Illustration from “Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess (Blue Fairy Book, p. 12), with Ford’s signature on lower right.

Recognizing the dramatic potential of the scene, illustrator Ford goes beyond the text and shows us is a black cat in the classic “Halloween pose”–hissing, back arched, and ears back–being pursued somewhat comically by the king, toe-dancing after the tail.  Adding to the humor, the beautiful princess seems so uninterested by the proceedings that she seems to almost doze off in boredom.

While Ford could not have anticipated the subsequent development of modern Halloween iconography that his illustration calls to mind today, the association of hissing black cats, black magic, and other-worldly affairs was traditional.  Cats have had a long history of association with magic, magicians, and the supernatural, and cat abuse of various kinds occurs relatively often in fairy tales, folklore, and nursery stories.

Another black cat–again the product of the artist’s inspiration–looms in one of Ford’s illustrations for the “Yellow Dwarf,” a tale from d’Aulnoy.  The narrative relates how the Yellow Dwarf, “mounted on a great Spanish cat” (presumably a Spanish Lynx), springs out for battle “with a terrible noise,” and proceeds to “set spurs to his cat, which yelled horribly, and leapt hither and thither–terrifying everybody except the brave King.”

Ford's "Spanish cat" from the "Yellow Dwarf" (Blue Fairy Book, p. 40)

Ford’s “Spanish cat” from the “Yellow Dwarf” (Blue Fairy Book, p. 40)

As Lang continues the story, the sun becomes “as red as blood … thunder crashed and lightning seemed as if it must burn up everything … two basilisks appeared … and fire flew from their mouths and ears until they looked like flaming furnaces.”   A terrifying scene–but one Ford opts not to depict, choosing instead the scene of the dwarf actually emerging from the box … astride, not a Lynx, but a wide-eyed, screeching black cat, claws at the ready.

In terms of other imagery apropos of Halloween, Ford presents a demonic scene to accompany “Why the Sea is Salt,” a tale about a poor, hungry brother tasked to take a ham to Hell–“Dead Man’s Hall,” in Lang’s version.  Lang’s narrative describes how “people great and small,” presumably demonic, haggle with him over the ham there; but Ford renders a much more visual and dramatic scene–a smoky charnel-house room full of demons, replete with one holding a trident, a scene that enhances the fearfulness of the scene considerably.

Demons from "Why the Sea is Salt" (Blue Fairy Book, p. 137)

Demons from “Why the Sea is Salt” (Blue Fairy Book, p. 137)

The exact nature of Lang’s collaboration with Ford, the principal illustrator of the Blue Fairy Book, is known, but Eleanor Langstaff notes that he “worked with the illustrators” in his role as general editor readying the Fairy Books for publication.  Whatever their  relationship, Ford’s work complements Lang’s narratives and extends them, as these three examples demonstrate.  Taking elements of the folktales, and reworking them with a vivid imagination in a manner evoking the Pre-Raphaelites, Ford’s illustrations develop Lang’s themes, sometimes in a manner most apt for Halloween.

A midsummer night's dream, or nightmare, in the nighttime sky? Ford's frontispiece from Lang's anthology of verse, the Blue Poetry Book (Longmans, 1891), depicting a scene worthy of any Halloween

A midsummer night’s dream, or nightmare, in the nighttime sky? Ford’s frontispiece from Lang’s anthology of verse, the Blue Poetry Book (Longmans, 1891), depicting a scene worthy of any Halloween

The Queen Caroline Affair: Royal Sex Scandal in Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Dignitaries of England

This is a copy of Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Dignitaries of England…with the Regalia used at the Coronation (1820)and it shows George IV and his estranged Queen Caroline of Brunswick

What’s the difference between these two pictures?

First edition of 1820

First edition of 1820

Third edition of 1821

Third edition of 1821

So why was the pretty young Queen removed from the picture?

The Prince Regent (the future George IV) had been waiting in the wings since 1811, when his father George III descended into madness.  The prospect after a new monarch after all this time was probably reason enough for the children’s book publisher John Harris to bring out Sir Harry Herald  in the new Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction series.  (It has been suggested that  Sir Harry Herald was inspired by Charles Lamb’s Book of the Ranks and Dignities of British Society (1805), but close comparison of the two works  does not bear this out.)

The ceremony promised to be spectacular, as the new monarch, having been ruinously extravagant his entire life, was intimately involved in the arrangements and planned to spare no expense.  Nearly six months would pass from the king’s death on January 29, 1820 until the coronation on July 19, so there was ample time for the design and construction of fabulous robes and new crown for George, among other things.

Presumably this delay was also to Harris’s advantage in making ready by mid-July the text and handsome wood-engravings of Sir Harry Herald.  But Harris could not have foreseen the next act in the royal marriage’s roiling drama.

In 1794, George had agreed to marry his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who was a Protestant of royal blood, which meant Parliament would increase his allowance, allowing the settlement of huge debts.  The wedding was a disaster, as the two were obviously mismatched and  each found the other repulsive.  Since 1814, Caroline had been living abroad in exchange for a generous allowance.  But now that she was nominally the Queen of England–albeit estranged from her husband, who had initiated divorce proceedings against her–she returned to England on June 5, where she was put on trial for adultery.

Championed by the opposition movement and beloved by the masses, she was found innocent at the end of June. Although she was advised not to take her place as Queen during the coronation, she turned up at Westminster Abbey, was denied entrance, and made a spectacle of herself.

The surprising number of changes large and small to the different editions Sir Harry Herald suggest that Harris was trying to respond the rapid and surprising succession of events.

Queen's Regalia, 1820 (1st) ed.

Queen’s Regalia, 1820 (1st) ed.

Could the color depiction of a harmonious royal couple in Westminster abbey that appeared in the first two editions have been hastily made in early July, to reflect Caroline’s apparent triumph?  Was the “replacement” image of George being crowned without his consort in attendance quickly contrived a few months later for the 1821 third edition in order to reflect reality?  (Having been barred from

Westminster Abbey, Caroline died three weeks later, leaving England without a Queen.)  The picture of the Queen’s coronation regalia, which Caroline never wore, was also excised from this edition.

Opening leaves of the 1824 (4th) ed., with ills. of both the king and queen excised.

Opening leaves of the 1824 (4th) ed., with ills. of both the king and queen excised.

And does the disappearance of the king’s portrait–oddly, the only depiction of the king in this “Coronation” book–from the fourth edition of 1824 indicate the publisher’s (and perhaps the nation’s) deep disenchantment with its monarch, whose popularity had plummeted shortly after coming to power?

1821 (2nd) ed. title-page, with George IV's "Coronation Medal"

1821 (2nd) ed. title-page, with George IV’s “Coronation Medal”

Ironically, a picture of the Queen’s regalia (unidentified as such) adorns the front wrapper of the 1824 edition, replacing a Coronation medallion of George, portrayed much like Augustus, which adorned the 1821 edition’s wrapper.  The hand-colored engraving of the Queen’s regalia had appeared in the 1820 first edition but it was then unceremoniously omitted from the 1821 third edition–along with the queen herself.


Front wrapper of 1824 (4th) ed. (left), recycling the 1820 ed. ill., here untitled, of the "Queen's Regalia" colored engraving. (right)

Front wrapper of 1824 (4th) ed. (left), recycling the 1820 ed. ill., here untitled, of the “Queen’s Regalia” colored engraving. (right)




Maybe it didn’t happen exactly this way.  But two other changes suggest Harris was well aware that demand for coronation memorabilia would not, unlike George’s popularity, plummet after the event.  The lovely illustration of the gentleman and lady in court dress in the 1820 first edition was excised from later editions.


Gentleman & Lady in "court dress" from the 1820 ed.

Gentleman & Lady in “court dress” from the 1820 ed.


The 1821 third edition also added an illustration of the magnificent new crown George had made for the coronation (which he seems to be wearing in the “God Save the King” portrait).

Illustration of the "New Imperial Crown" (not depicted in the 1820 ed.), with the crown formerly-known as the "Imperial Crown" (now labeled "St. Edwards Crown").

Illustration of the “New Imperial Crown” (not depicted in the 1820 ed.), with the crown formerly-known as the “Imperial Crown” (now labeled “St. Edwards Crown”).

Could it be that Harris was trying to ensure that Sir Harry Herald, one of the most visually attractive titles in the Cabinet of Amusement and  Instruction, would not become dated prematurely despite the tumult of the times?  A close comparison of the illustrations in these three editions (see below) certainly suggests that Harris was busily engaged in changing this title for some reason. The publisher even changed the title of the book slightly to emphasize the coronation and the spectacular–some of it newly redesigned–coronation regalia.

George IV being crowned in the 1821 ed. ("God save the King") with overlay of the New Imperial Crown (from leaf 15. Are they they the same?

George IV being crowned in the 1821 ed. (“God save the King”) with overlay of the New Imperial Crown (from leaf 15. Are they they the same?

Thus, Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Dignitaries of England, Shewing the Different Ranks…with the Regalia used at the Coronation becomes Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Coronation Regalia, with the Degrees and Costume of Different Ranks.   The regalia assumes pride of place over the dignitaries…and even over the monarch(s) wearing it!

Opening leaves of the 1820, 1821, and 1824 editions of Harry Herald, showing the progressively diminishing royal presence.

Opening leaves of the 1820, 1821, and 1824 editions of Harry Herald, showing the progressively diminishing royal presence.

Comparison of the leaves in Cotsen’s three editions of Sir Harry Herald

  1820 1821 1824
Leaf # (1st ed.) (3rd ed.) (4th ed.)
1   TP TP TP
2   king’s champion king’s champion king’s champion
3   king / queen king  alone (crowned) archbishop / chancellor
4   archbishop / chancellor archbishop / chancellor duke / marquis
5   duke / marquis duke / marquis earl / viscount
6   earl / viscount earl / viscount bishop / baron
7   bishop / baron bishop / baron knight / judge
8   knight / judge knight / judge dr. div. / sgt at law
9   Dr. div. / sgt at law Dr. div. / sgt at law admiral / field marshall
10   admiral / field marshall admiral / field marshall general / naval captain
11   general / naval captain general / naval captain Lord Mayor
12   gentleman / lady Lord Mayor St Edward’s chair
13   Lord Mayor St Edward’s chair St Edward’s crown / regalia
14   alderman / sheriff St Edward’s crown / regalia New Imperial Crown
15   councilman / livery New Imperial Crown ampulla / annointing spoon
16   Lord mayor ampulla / annointing spoon Great Seal
17   queen’s regalia Great Seal yeoman of guard
18   yeoman of guard yeoman of guard advertisement

–Andrea Immel (with help from Jeff Barton)