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Lang, Andrew

Entry updated 10 October 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1844-1912) Scottish anthropologist and man of letters well known for a wide range of literary activity, including novels, poetry, belles-lettres, children's books and (perhaps most familiar to current readers) Anthologies of traditional fables and tales retold for children, with some added hagiographical and historical material, much of the work being done by his wife; numerous volumes followed the first of these, The Blue Fairy Book (anth 1889). As an anthropologist, he presciently debunked the Aryan diffusion model for the transmission of mythology and folklore, though his sense of the structure and potency of recurring patterns was, perhaps, rather muffled; his argument, most eloquently expressed in Custom and Myth (1884), that these recurring patterns did significantly permeate the present, to a degree that might well seem supernatural, influenced John Buchan all the same. The rather delicate fantasy content of many of his children's tales gives them a nostalgic interest for some adults today; representative are: The Princess Nobody: A Tale of Fairy Land After the Drawings by Richard Doyle (1884 chap; rev vt In Fairyland: With the Original Illustrations by Richard Doyle and the Text of the Princess Nobody by Andrew Lang 1979 chap) and The Gold of Fairnilee (1888). The Pantouflia sequence includes Prince Prigio (1889) and Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia: Being the Adventures of Prince Prigio's Son (1893), which features a trip to a lunar Lost World on a flying horse, placidly evocative of the traditional Fantastic Voyage. Both titles were assembled as My Own Fairy Book [for subtitle see Checklist] (omni 1895); Tales of a Fairy Court (coll 1906) contains some further Prince Prigio stories.

Some of Lang's adult fiction contains more bracing material, however, though Much Darker Days (1884; rev 1885) as by A Huge Longway, which parodies Dark Days (1884) by Hugh Conway (1847-1885), does so without venturing into the sensational fantasies of its target, and That Very Mab (1885), written with May Kendall – pseudonym of Emma Goldworth (1861-1943) – and published anon, is a rather feeble Satire involving the return of the fairy queen to a nineteenth-century England where (we discover incidentally) interplanetary travel exists. The title story of In the Wrong Paradise and Other Stories (coll 1886) is less ineffectual in its dramatization of the dictum that one man's paradise is another man's hell. In the same volume, "The Romance of the First Radical" (September 1880 Fraser's Magazine as "The Romance of the First Radical: A Prehistoric Apologue") is an early example of Prehistoric SF (see Anthropology; Origin of Man), predating H G Wells's "A Story of the Stone Age" (May-November 1897 Idler) by more than a decade. Why-Why, a revolutionary Ice Age citizen, falls in love with Verva, asks intolerable questions of his tribe, and comes to a sad end. "The End of Phaeacia" (from the same volume) is a Lost-Race tale in which a missionary is shipwrecked on a South Sea Island that turns out to be the Homeric Phaeacia. And "The Great Gladstone Myth" (also from the same volume) is a Ruins and Futurity spoof in which archaeologists of the future demonstrate through their reading of centuries-old evidence that William Gladstone was a sun-god. The Mark of Cain (1886) introduces, late in the action, a flying machine as deus ex machina to solve a court case. Some of the pieces collected in Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody (coll 1890), such as the letter from Allan Quatermain to a colleague telling of exorbitant happenings, represent a forerunner format for the writing of Recursive SF.

Considerably more durable is Lang's collaboration with his friend H Rider Haggard, whose She (October 1886-January 1887 The Graphic; cut 1886; full text 1887) he parodied in He (1887), written with Walter Herries Pollock and published anonymously. After this literary prank, Lang joined with Haggard to write The World's Desire (1890), a novel which combines Haggard's crude, sometimes haunting vigour and Lang's chastely pastel classicism, as expressed earlier in his book-length narrative poem, Helen of Troy (1882); despite occasional longueurs, the resulting tale of Odysseus's last journey to find Helen in Egypt is a moving, frequently eloquent romance, coming to a climax with Odysseus's discovery that Helen is the avatar of Ayesha (of Haggard's She) (see She), and with his death at the hands of his son. The Disentanglers (coll of linked stories 1901 chap US; much exp 1902), Lang's last book of adult fiction, is fundamentally uncategorizable, though its sections have some resemblance to the Club Story; some of its episodes deal with submarines, occult sects, spectres and so forth, all used – as Roger Lancelyn Green noted in the best study of the author, Andrew Lang (1946) – to replace the traditional "magical devices of the fairy tale" with the latest scientific developments, though retaining the magical function. Copious, but flawed by a disheartening dilettantism, Lang's work lies just the wrong side of major ranking in the sf/fantasy field, just as in his other areas of concentration. [JC]

see also: Modernism in SF.

Andrew Lang

born Selkirk, Selkirkshire, Scotland: 31 March 1844

died Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland: 20 July 1912

works (excluding anthologies)



individual titles


parodies under various names

  • Much Darker Days (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1884) as by A Huge Longway [parodying Dark Days (1884) by Hugh Conway (1847-1885): hb/]
    • Much Darker Days (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1885) as by A Huge Longway [rev of the above: parodying Dark Days (1884) by Hugh Conway (1847-1885): hb/]
  • He (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1887) with Walter Herries Pollock [parodying She (October 1886-January 1887 The Graphic; cut 1886; full text 1887) by H Rider Haggard: pb/nonpictorial]
  • When It Was Light: A Reply to "When It was Dark" (London: John Long, 1906) as Anonymous [a response to the 1903 novel by Guy Thorne (see Cyril Ranger Gull): hb/]

nonfiction (highly selected)

about the author

  • Roger Lancelyn Green. Andrew Lang (Leicester, Leicestershire: Edmund Ward, 1946) [nonfiction: hb/]


previous versions of this entry

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