It turns out that there might just be such a thing as karma after all, or at least recent events in my book-buying life suggest so. Having a baby is not a cheap exercise (although we’ve been careful not to fall foul of the buying frenzy that new parents are encouraged into by marketing bods everywhere. Case in point – nappy disposal bins. Surely having a special bin to hermetically seal the nappy in plastic so you don’t have to touch it is rendered null and void when you’re up to your elbows in what you’ve just cleaned off the baby??). Certain savings have had to be made, including the rate at which I acquire books.
With one exception.
Books for the BABY. As Helen from A Gallimaufry suggested in her recent comment there’s no better excuse than a baby if you want to track down and revisit all the childhood classics that you don’t already own (or still have). We’re currently working on our tiny person’s library and I’m absolutely loving it. Plus the universe sent me a wonderful sign that I should keep going – or a reward for being so frugal elsewhere.
For those who don’t know of him, Andrew Lang was a poet, novelist and critic and, from what I’ve read of him, an enlightened and progressive sort of chap. But he’s most famous – ironically, given that he didn’t write them himself – for a collection of fairy tales that he compiled in the late 1800s – early 1900s, known as the Rainbow Fairy Books. Over 12 individually coloured volumes, Lang brought together 437 stories from both English and international folklore, helping many stories to reach a wider audience for the first time and bringing about a revolution in the way that fairytales were perceived by scholars, critics and the general reading public.
As a great lover of folklore and fairytales, as soon as I heard about Andrew Lang’s collection I realised they HAD to be a part of my daughter’s library. But tracking down copies was not as straightforward. Abe Books will do you the full set of original editions for a mere £9700. Then there were the Folio Society editions. Too beautiful for words and the kind of dream purchase that is still on my ‘if I win the lottery’ wishlist. But at £50 a title, not too practical. And as much as I’d adore them, I don’t want to gift anything to my daughter that I’d be terrified of her touching.
More realistically, I found the Dover Children’s Classics. Originally published in the 60s, these titles are unabridged and also contain copies of the original illustrations. Most titles are available on Amazon for £12-13 but I just found them on Wordery reduced to under £8 each.
I wanted to rush out and buy all of them immediately but – in the spirit of my new thriftiness – I put one of them on a Secret Santa wishlist and decided to pick them up one at a time next year.
Just a few days later, my husband parked the car in town and realised he didn’t have enough change for the metre so he dashed into a nearby Oxfam bookshop to break a note. Thinking he’d pick up a children’s book, he was scanning the shelves when he saw what he was fairly sure were some of the Lang titles I’d been talking about a few days before. He bought one to bring home and check. It was the Dover Children’s Classic edition of the Red Fairy Book. The next day we went back and bought up the rest, at £2.99 each! So now, we have eight of the twelve. And guess what? That didn’t include the one I’d put on my Secret Santa list.
If anyone is a fan of fairytales and hasn’t tried the Lang stories, I’d thoroughly recommend them. Where else could you find ‘The Goat-faced Girl’ or ‘The Death of Koschei the Deathless’ alongside such classics as ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘The Snow-Queen’. I’ve actually been reading them aloud to my daughter (who mostly sleeps her way through them) and I think that’s the perfect way to experience them. Something about the clean, crisp neatness of well-written fairy stories, combined with the trademark repetition, just lends itself to being spoken aloud. And they’re the most perfect partner for all the twinkling fairy lights covering our living room and an antidote to the winter greyness outside.
Thank you, karma.