The Brown Fairy Book
Large Type Edition
By Andrew Lang
BiblioLife (2008), 280 pages
Genre: Classics - Children's Fiction
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 14, 2010
Andrew Lang (1844-1912) wrote a number of books of fairy tales and differentiated each from the other by color; for example, this one is green, another is pink, another is blue, and others yellow, grey, brown, and lilac. The book contains 32 tales from many lands. He states that many of the tales were told by grandmothers to children who never went to school and who, unfortunately, never will, children in India, Africa, Persia, South America, Australia, and other countries. The stories, he writes, show the advantage of good manners and pleasant behavior. He admits that some stories were revised to omit elements that the "outlandish natives" liked, to make them palatable for "white people." This prejudice was shown in other Lang books.
Although from many foreign lands, the stories contain many of the same ingredients in all fairy tales. What the Rose did to the Cypress? is an example. There is a king who has three very handsome sons. The magic numbers three and seven occur frequently in the tale. One of the sons meets a mysterious man who had seven sons. He tells the prince how each of his sons in turn heard about a very beautiful princess who agreed to marry the man who could answer her riddle, "What the rose did to the cypress?" If the suitor fails to answer the riddle correctly, he is beheaded. Each of his seven sons tried to answer the riddle, failed and was killed. The man said that he has mourned them ever since their deaths.
The prince, as happens in fairy tales, falls in love with the princess, even as the seven sons did, without ever seeing her. He goes to the princess, offers an answer, which is wrong, and is beheaded. When his second brother hears what happened, he also falls in love, with the same result. Then the third brother also falls in love, goes to the princess’ palace, but decides not to try to answer until he is sure he knows the real solution.
The rest of the story relates his many adventures during his search. He encounters many beautiful women, including magicians, who fall in love with him because of his beauty. He promises each that he will marry them if they help him. Each offers some help. He comes to a land of demons and fairies. He is changed by magic into a deer. A three hundred year old servant woman tries to catch the deer. Will he be successful? Will he marry any of the beautiful girls who he promised to marry? Will he discover the answer to the riddle? What is the answer? What will he do to the princess? Will he take revenge upon her for murdering his brothers or will he succumb to her beauty and marry her?
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of sixteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes Wagner and Drazin's latest book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah.