The Red Fairy Book, collected by Andrew Lang, edited by Brian Alderson – I have already read several of these Fairy Books, collections of various fairy tales including the famous and the more obscure, but not in order. In his second such volume, Lang gives us several tales straight out of Grimm, but plenty of less famous ones as well. This particular edition was edited to remove some of the best-known stories, but it’s not a big deal as I’m already familiar with them. I’m not sure why the editor made the decision to omit them, though. The book begins with “Soria Moria Castle,” known as the source of the name of Moria in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The professor stated that only the name came from the story, which is about a young hero who slays a series of trolls with ever-increasing heads. There is a reference in The Hobbit to trolls being bad enough when they have only one head, or something like that, but it’s not like trolls with multiple heads don’t appear other places as well. I’ve already looked at “The Death of Koshchei the Deathless.” “The Norka” is a Russian tale about a fantastic monster, although there’s sadly little in the way of description for this creature. We know it’s huge, shakes the ground when it moves, devours livestock, and sleeps on a stone in the sea of the fairy world. Prince Ivan, the youngest and simplest of three royal sons, kills him with help from his sisters, who aren’t monsters at all but instead beautiful enchantresses. Perhaps the Norka was originally a person who later found himself stuck in monster form. All I could find from a quick Google search was this excellent artist’s interpretation of the Norka:
Source: FamiliarOddlings at DeviantArt
Here’s a picture of the Norka from the edition of the book I read, drawn by Faith Jaques:
“The Little Good Mouse” is about a fairy in the shape of a rodent who helps a princess and her mother. “The Voice of Death” describes a country where people don’t die until they hear a voice calling them, and what happens when a newcomer chooses to ignore the voice. “Katie Woodencloak” is basically a Cinderella story, but before it gets into the part with the shoe, Katie has adventures killing trolls with the help of the Dun Bull.
One tale with an interesting history is “Mother Holle,” largely a typical sort of morality tale where two sisters go through the same adventures, but one is helpful and is rewarded for it, and the other is lazy and surly and receives a punishment. An odd element here is Mother Holle herself, identified in a footnote as the creator of snow in the German province of Hesse. An expression has it that Holle is making her bed when it snows, and in the story the good girl helps the old lady by shaking her bed until the feathers fly, which produces snow.
Holle, also known as Holda or Hulda, is thought to be a remnant of German paganism, and has been associated with several different Norse deities. In addition to representing winter, she’s also a patron of spinning and a ruler of witches. There’s some speculation that she actually predates some of the more famous Norse gods.