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Once Upon a Time...
Photo by Kay Mercer

Once Upon a Time...

Jackie McMillan —

Fairy Tales: The Hidden Depths of our Collections

Once upon a time, in a City of Literature not far away (in fact, right here in Dunedin) there was - make that, is - a collection of tales. These tales of wonder will take you to faraway lands, to meet strange beings and creatures and to adventures beyond your wildest dreams. Fairy tales and folklore from all around the world, including New Zealand's Maori Myths and Legends, are gathered in Dunedin Public Libraries ready for you to begin your adventures.

What you see on the shelves in the children's section is only the beginning, because the Library is a magical place, with hidden depths. Imagine that the City library is an iceberg and you can only see the tip. There is much more to the iceberg down below, for the City's Youth Stack contains treasure and treasuries, including many more fairy tales and folk stories, with whole books dedicated to giantsmermaids,  ogres and trolls

One man, Andrew Lang (1844-1912), gathered together hundreds of stories in twelve different coloured Fairy Books, first published between 1889 and 1910. The library holds many editions of Lang's Fairy Books as well as his other collections of stories, including The Arabian Nights.

Some fairy tales and folklore may already be familiar to you, thanks to movies and television, but there is an amazing array of different versions, especially of tales by Charles Perrault (1628-1703),  Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), and those collected by the Brothers Grimm. These have all been illustrated by a variety of talented illustrators. Arthur Rackham, for instance, was a significant and prolific illustrator from what is known as the Golden Age of Illustration. The library has several books about Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) and his art. He not only illustrated a range of fairy tales he also illustrated the famous legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. And then there are many versions of the Arthur legend, not least the multi-volume set illustrated by American Howard Pyle (1853-1911), the founder of the Brandywine School of Art.  

There are also some more modern fairy tales to be found outside the fairy tale collection, shelved under the author's name in the children's section, such as Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince

Fairy tales and folklore are not just for children. Some began as oral stories that were passed from generation to generation. These were gathered and written down before they were lost. If you want to learn more about fairy tales just ask the friendly library staff for books on the subject in the Children's Literature Research Collection. You could start by reading Marina Warner's Once Upon A Time.