Just about everyone knows Baum for his Oz stories, and is at the very least familiar with the 1939 movie. American Fairy Tales, however, is not a series of connected chapters or characters. Each story is self-contained, short enough and exciting enough to keep a child’s attention,and whimsical enough to qualify as a fairy tale…even if not all of the stories feature fairies,castles, and/or royalty.
The book was published just a year after Baum’s first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, debuted to a resounding welcome. The original publication was set up somewhat like an illuminated manuscript, with elaborate borders on every page and intricate illustrations for each story. Several illustrators worked on the book: Ralph Fletcher Seymour provided the intricate borders, while the page illustrations were inked by Ike Morgan, Harry Kennedy, and Norman P. Hall.
The stories themselves are silly and often self-referential. In The Queen of Quok, for example, when the young king is auctioned off to the highest bidder, “…the sour old woman paid the money in cash and on the spot, which proves this is a fairy story.” And at the end of The Glass Dog:
“As for the glass dog, the wizard set him barking again by means of his wizardness and put him outside his door. I suppose he is there yet, and am rather sorry, for I should like to consult the wizard about the moral to this story.”
While the version I read did not include the illustrations, Baum’s writing easily conjures up dazzling ideas of brightly clad bandits (A Box of Robbers), creatures springing forth from an oversized book (The Girl Who Owned a Bear), and the motley dress of a wax woman who doesn’t know any better (The Dummy That Lived). And try as I might, I was unable to find any examples of the original illustrations which were available to use. All of the “illustrated” versions I was able to locate used other public domain images, like paintings which resembled a person or thing mentioned in the story. So this time out, you’ll simply have to use your imagination.
If you would like to read it for FREE, Feedbooks is where to find American Fairy Tales.
You can also visit Feedbooks to get a number of Baum’s other books, including the Oz series.
If you prefer to listen to American Fairy Tales, Matthew Reece has made a recording of all 12 stories over at Librivox.
We’ve mentioned a non-Oz Baum story on the blog before: Havilah covered his short story A Kidnapped Santa Claus.