Saying it with Pictures: Fairy Tale Illustrations

The first book I remember reading is my big, heavy book of fairy tales. It featured tales from the Grimm and Perrault collections, as well as some taken from the Arabian Nights and classic American literature like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, besides stories like Johnny Appleseed, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and a couple of Brer Rabbit stories. Many were also sourced from traditional folklore collections of Spain, India, China, Italy and the British Isles.

Anyway, since I started reading for my Coursera Fairy Tales assignment, I kept thinking of the gorgeous illustrations of that early book. I loved it so much as a child that I felt I had to stamp my ownership all over it. It is, therefore, filled with scribbles and sketches (even moustaches for the bad guys). After me, my younger sister took over the book and she’s doodled in it too. Sometimes I feel bad that we didn’t take better care of this book: it’s spine has fallen apart and many of the illustrations are now marred by our once well-meant additions. Other times, however, I can’t help but laugh out loud. It’s a beloved book and in all its sketches and doodles and scribblings, it also contains the history of our childhood years. It shows who we adored  (Cinderella, over whose gorgeous dress we have drawn over and over again) and who we hated (the witch in Sleeping Beauty, upon whom we bestowed the fearsome teeth which were missing in the original illustration). Anyway, I decided to share some of these images with my readers.  I know most of you enjoy a good picture just as much as you enjoy a good story.

Hansel and Grethel:

Hansel and Grethel overhear their stepmother’s nefarious plot

An illustration from Sleeping Beauty: notice the witch’s new and improved fangs

From The Golden Goose

Cinderella dances with her prince

From The Fisherman and his Wife

From The Goose Girl: Notice the moustache on the girl at the back

Also from The Goose Girl


25 thoughts on “Saying it with Pictures: Fairy Tale Illustrations

  1. Wow, thank you so much for this – I also love working with illustrations and they definitely affect how I read the stories. I love the Goose Girl illustration of the women on the horses – what a great use of space on the page to create the sense of depth!
    My main interest is Aesop’s fables and I have a huge collection at Flickr of Aesop’s fable illustrations that I found in public domain books on the Internet – if you are curious, here it is: (the captions are mostly in Latin because that is what I work on, Latin fables).
    Do you know the SurLaLune website? Gosh it has some amazing image sets for fairy tales: – it is one of my favorite websites; Heidi Anne Heiner is a real hero to me, and all the work she has done there is a HUGE help in teaching my classes. My students use that website A LOT. 🙂

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Laura! I had come across SurLaLune (Someone posted a link on the forums. Was it you?). I just hadn’t found the time to really go through it. Anyway, today is Sunday so I will be reading through all the websites and articles that people had mentioned on the forums. I look forward to that!

    • Oh and yes…the Goose Girl illustration with the horses is truly wonderful for exactly the reason you mentioned. I think I should mention that I first learnt to sketch and paint by following these illustrations. Aren’t they a wonderful guide?

  2. I am taking this course too! (Thanks to your recommendation, I got in before it all got started!) As much as I loved the 1886 (?) woodcuts/illustrations in the edition recommended for the class, I am so glad you posted these beautiful illustrations – they remind me of my childhood as well.

    • That’s wonderful! I’m so glad you got in! What are you called in the class, by the way? I’m Pooja Pillai. It would be great if we could follow each other’s theories and arguments there as well.

  3. I’ve enjoyed looking at the pictures on your post – it’s interesting to think about how the images alter how we view the text. I have been writing about illustrations for Christina Rossetti’s ‘fairytale’ poem ‘Goblin Market’, and it’s fascinating to see how it’s been interpreted in illustrations, from traditional Victorian images through to erotic ones which appeared in Playboy (surprisingly!) in the 70s.

    • Goblin market is one of my favourite poems simply because of the rich imagery. It gives me such goosebumps each time I read it. The playboy version sounds very intriguing. But I can imagine how they must have thought goblin market would make a good subject. It has a strong sensuality vs spirituality feel… Must have been irresistible

  4. The old school illustrations are the best! My favourite illustrations to date are the ones in this children’s bible my parents got for me. It had the most beautiful image of Mother Mary and it’s still the one that pops into my head when I’m in church.
    Sadly, I have no idea where the book is now. I think it got lost in all the packing and moving 😦

    • Yeah, we’ve lost a few books too. We had a lovely set of 2 Russian Folktales books: one green and one red. Such gorgeous illustrations! Can’t find them now 😦

  5. Hi,
    I had the same book as a child, and for whatever reason had been trying to describe the feel of the illustrations in the book to my wife a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly I failed to do them justice and I have been trying to find the name of the book so I could show her some of my favorites (the treasure room in 40 thieves, etc…). Would you be so kind as to post the title and especially the illustrator so I can try and get my hands on a copy?

    • Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by! I dug up the old book to check the name of the illustrator as well, but there was none listed. It’s really strange, because there are no credits whatsoever in the book, not even for whoever selected the stories. The name of the book is simply ‘Fairy Tales’. Sorry I couldn’t give you anything more helpful.

  6. Gee that is too bad. Thank you for checking though, I appreciate it. And many thanks as well for posting the pictures you have.

  7. I’ve searching for a particular fairy tale book for years – it was my favourite book as a child. From the description and illustrations that you’ve posted I’m pretty sure this is the book – I wonder if it would be possible for you to post a pic of the front cover? Or, could you tell me if it has an illustration of Aladdin meeting the genie? Thank you!

    • Yes Emma, that is the cover! It is hard and has a grey background. The same illustration is on the back cover as well. I’m trying to find a fresh (or relatively fresh and well-kept) copy of the book. If you do manage to find it, let me know!

  8. Ah that’s great – I knew I recognised those illustrations! It’s a wonderful book and I will continue my search – will certainly let you know if I track it down!

  9. I finally found it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This was my favorite book, the images were still burned in my mind but I could not remember the name for the life of me. I have been googling it for years trying to find results. And I finally found it!

    • If anyone has found a copy of this book or where to buy it – please share. I’ve also been looking for a copy with no luck. Does anyone know who the publisher is? Or even what year?

  10. Oh my, I’ve been searching for this book for over a decade. My copy that I’ve had for almost a quarter century is missing the cover completely and 8 year old me thought taping the pages together with duct tape would be a great idea. Other than the title of the book simply being “Fairy Tales” do you happen to know the publisher of this book? Year it was published in? I would love to find an intact copy.

  11. Wow, I’ve also been also searching for this book for so long (mine was in a box of books that didn’t make it in my grandparents move many years ago). I find it very interesting that I’m not the only one looking for it too. Would it be to much to ask if you could post/email a photo of the front cover? Thanks

  12. On the page with the copy right information there should be an ISBN number which you could use to find the information you need. It’s like a book social security number.

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