The Life of Folklorist Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang was a folklorist, poet, novelist, editor, translator, compiler, biographer, essayist, and literary critic who contributed heavily to anthropology. He is well known as a collector of fairy and folk tales.

Despite being a professional author who has contributed much to history, anthropology, and mythology; Andrew Lang is made famous by works that he did not write himself.

Education and Marriage

Andrew Lang was educated at Selkirk grammar school, and then at the Edinburgh Academy. The next step in his education was to attend the University of St. Andrews. Today, the university still honors Lang, by hosting the “Andrew Lang Lecture Series”.

Lang also attended Balliol College, in Oxford, England, where he took a first class in the final classical schools in 1868, becoming an honorary Fellow of Merton College (1865 to 1874).

He was married to Leonora Blanche Alleyne, whom he acknowledged in his writings. Leonora, also named Nora by family and friends, and other translators, assumed control of editing works in the 1890s, by translating and retelling the stories.

Leonora also takes credit as an author and collaborator of Lang’s fairy stories, as the only other contributor.


Lang is best known for folklore, religion, and mythology publications. His reputation as a poet, historian, critic, and journalist grew fast, making him one of the most competent writers of the day. Besides his anthropology and folklore works, he was a physical researcher, a classical scholar, and author of general history.

In all his works, he published, reviewed, and edited articles and books concerning the subjects. Some of his publications and works include The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897), Magic and Religion (1901), The Secret of the Totem (1905), translating Odyssey (1879), Iliad (1883), translating The Homeric Hymns (1899), penning The Mystery of Mary Stuart (1901) among others.

Besides, Lang composed ballads, poem verses and wrote Daily News articles among other articles of different kinds.

He served as the editor of Longman’s Magazine and criticized other folklorists, as shown in his books such as Letters to Dead Authors (1886) and Letters of Literature (1889).

He was elected as Fellow of the British Academy in 1906 due to his pioneering work. Lang also served as the President of the Society for Physical Research in 1911.

Andrew Lang died from heart illness at the age of 68 years on 12th July 1912, and was succeeded by his wife, Nora.

Inspiration behind Lang’s Work on Fairies

Several factors played an essential role in inspiring Andrew Lang into composing and releasing 25 fairy books, mostly intended for children. These include:

• Early exposure to fairy tales: In his childhood, Lang read a variety of old traditional fairy tales that he came across, such as The Rose and the Ring, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among others. This exposure became the basis of his inspiration into fairies, in that the more he grew older, the more he was exposed to these collections.

His interest in ballad literature and folklore was influenced by reading John Ferguson, before joining Balliol College in Oxford, and Edward Burnett Tylor, an English anthropologist.

• The collaborative effort of his wife and other writers: Leonora Blanche, with the help of many different people, played a significant role in inspiring Lang fairies in that she helped in transcribing and translating most of his works. For instance, he acknowledges his wife’s effort in the preface of one of the numerous fairy books he wrote, “Lilac Fairy Book.”

• History and interest in classics: As a historian and a classical scholar, he got inspiration into writing fairies like Pickle the Spy and Mary Queen of Scots relating to historical drama. From his historical studies, Lang was able to draw characters and play with them in his fairies articles in a manner that a real historian can understand.

• Religion: The “noble savage” idea of the 18th century greatly inspired his works on religion. He related the tremendous spiritual beliefs among the uncivilized races and made drawings paralleled with supernatural interests. He also examined the origins of totemism.

• Intellectual capabilities: Andrew Lang was very fast in grasping and mastering any subject, as he was described as having a delightful and brilliant intellect. He tirelessly worked harder by putting considerable effort into extreme care in his career and composing an article in the shortest time possible. His experience at the Daily News, where he wrote articles covering all aspects of life, enabled him to learn more about humanity, cultures, and other things, which inspired him even more into fairies.

Lang’s collection of fairy stories gained immense popularity, and boosted his folklorist reputation through his numerous books. Besides, his works played a significant role in impacting children’s literature as well as inspiring other authors from different parts of the world, such as Joseph Jacobs, Kate Douglas, and Clifton Johnson, among others.