Prefaces and Introductions

“I shall not tell you anything about us except what I should like to know about if I was reading the story and you were writing it. Albert’s uncle says I ought to have put this in the preface, but I never read prefaces, and it is not much good writing things just for people to skip. I wonder other authors have never thought of this.”

—E. Nesbit’s at-this-point-unnamed narrator in The Story of the Treasure-Seekers (1899)

Andrew Lang was a prolific preface-writer. His readable and entertaining prefaces are worthy of a study in their own right; they often give hints as to Andrew Lang’s wide reading that are unavailable elsewhere. However, as a preface writer, Lang did share E. Nesbit’s narrator’s concerns. His fairy book prefaces frequently take his non-readers to task for their supposition that he wrote all the stories their presented—a scolding which would not do much good if they are skipping the prefaces. Lang is also sometimes criticized even now for placing his name on the outside of these books, since for many of them he merely distantly superintended the work, writing a preface at the end. Yet, as mentioned in the page on Fairy Tales, Lang is very clear in his prefaces about who did the actual work, sometimes stating repeatedly that it was not he.

Moreover, as I point out in a forthcoming article on Andrew Lang and J.R.R. Tolkien for the George MacDonald Society’s Informing the Inklings, Lang’s easily accessible fairy-book prefaces sometimes give a partially incorrect conception of his views on child psychology, of his complex but inchoate ideas on primary and secondary belief, and of his opinions on adult and child readers of fairy tales. These prefaces were hastily written at a particular point in time, but Lang’s opinions on the topics addressed there changed over time. Nonetheless, because fairy books are often nostalgically passed on from parents to children, Lang’s fairy book prefaces were preserved in a way that is untrue of much of his other writings. While many readers skip his prefaces, other readers only know Andrew Lang’s thought through these prefaces.

Lang’s prefaces, like all his writing, require contextualization, but they also contain some of his most interesting ideas. Lang was also in great demand as a preface-writer for other authors. As his name in great part helped to sell the colored fairy books, so was his name useful to other authors when they published their children’s stories or their research on folk-lore.

I list many of the prefaces which Andrew Lang wrote below. Please let me know if you are aware of a preface Lang wrote that is not listed here.