The Orange Fairy Book HTML version

The children who read fairy books, or have fairy books read to them, do not read
prefaces, and the parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who give fairy books to
their daughters, nieces, and cousines, leave prefaces unread. For whom, then,
are prefaces written? When an author publishes a book 'out of his own head,' he
writes the preface for his own pleasure. After reading over his book in print--to
make sure that all the 'u's' are not printed as 'n's,' and all the 'n's' as 'u's' in the
proper names--then the author says, mildly, in his preface, what he thinks about
his own book, and what he means it to prove--if he means it to prove anything--
and why it is not a better book than it is. But, perhaps, nobody reads prefaces
except other authors; and critics, who hope that they will find enough in the
preface to enable them to do without reading any of the book.
This appears to be the philosophy of prefaces in general, and perhaps authors
might be more daring and candid than they are with advantage, and write regular
criticisms of their own books in their prefaces, for nobody can be so good a critic
of himself as the author--if he has a sense of humour. If he has not, the less he
says in his preface the better.
These Fairy Books, however, are not written by the Editor, as he has often
explained, 'out of his own head.' The stories are taken from those told by
grannies to grandchildren in many countries and in many languages-- French,
Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Gaelic, Icelandic, Cherokee, African, Indian, Australian,
Slavonic, Eskimo, and what not. The stories are not literal, or word by word
translations, but have been altered in many ways to make them suitable for
children. Much has been left out in places, and the narrative has been broken up
into conversations, the characters telling each other how matters stand, and
speaking for themselves, as children, and some older people, prefer them to do.
In many tales, fairly cruel and savage deeds are done, and these have been
softened down as much as possible; though it is impossible, even if it were
desirable, to conceal the circumstance that popular stories were never intended
to be tracts and nothing else. Though they usually take the side of courage and
kindness, and the virtues in general, the old story-tellers admire successful
cunning as much as Homer does in the Odyssey. At least, if the cunning hero,
human or animal, is the weaker, like Odysseus, Brer Rabbit, and many others,
the story-teller sees little in intellect but superior cunning, by which tiny Jack gets
the better of the giants. In the fairy tales of no country are 'improper' incidents
common, which is to the credit of human nature, as they were obviously
composed mainly for children. It is not difficult to get rid of this element when it
does occur in popular tales.
The old puzzle remains a puzzle--why do the stories of the remotest people so
closely resemble each other? Of course, in the immeasurable past, they have
been carried about by conquering races, and learned by conquering races from
vanquished peoples. Slaves carried far from home brought their stories with them
into captivity. Wanderers, travellers, shipwrecked men, merchants, and wives
stolen from alien tribes have diffused the stories; gipsies and Jews have passed
them about; Roman soldiers of many different races, moved here and there