Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: Looking for Old Fairy Tales

Alia requests your help finding a book of fairy tales that sounds very extraordinary. This is kinda trippy for me because I was thinking about my favorite fairy tale collection just yesterday. Now I want to go find it.

I’m looking for a hardcover collection of fairy tales (i think. it might have been “world tales” or “folk tales” or even “stories about half naked women”) with a mostly white or at least white-edged cover, printed before 1983. I know that date, because I remember bringing the battered book outside and the neighbor boys being extremely interested in a picture of a naked young woman being dragged (up?)/surrounded by winged brown and grey demons/monsters/giant insects. I was seven, so thought both the boys and the picture were gross and embarrassing. Gross boys are remembered, name of collection, even name of the story with brownish demons and naked girl looking down, not so much.

The picture *I* remember is of The Master Maid (i think that story was from the middle of the collection), her back to the viewer, her long straight blond hair braided with two small braids at the temple, joining in the middle and then going down her back—without any sign of hair tie. (I was seven. I had long hair. I wanted my hair to stay braided without a hair tie pulling my scalp or digging into my back. Priorities!)

All the illustrations were lush, colorful, realistic (er, as realistic as monsters get—and the naked girl pic also stood out because it was the least colorful painting) and I think the first two stories were a retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon story (girl goes off with unsuitable husband in the dark, comes back to visit mean family who tell her he’s a demon, she must look at him, drama ensues…) with a picture of women on either side of our heroine whispering into her ears—again, mostly naked, as they were in a huge bathhouse type space. And the other first tale that I remember had the word “shrew” in it but had nothing to do with Shakespeare. There was a languid woman lying down in gorgeous, jewel-toned surroundings…. possibly Indian or Persian, so it might have been The Cobra and the Shrew or something like that… maybe…

The reason I don’t have this book anymore is that it was huge and heavy and we moved a lot (hence pinpointing dates by neighborhood), and my mother claims that the stories themselves were badly written. I don’t remember the words, frankly. But I remember the pictures, oh yes…

Not Arthur Rackham or Brian Froud, not any illustrator who comes up easily in simple searches. And forgetting to put quotes around “The Master Maid” in google images scarred me for life.

Most of the book search options online expect you to know the author or the title, and I don’t know how else to describe the book except as above.

Can the bitchery take pity on me—at least point me towards a similarly minded group of people with an encyclopedic knowledge of fairy tale illustrators and their work, rather than romance novels?


fairy tales were my first love

Anyone remember this book?



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  1. 1
    Barb says:

    Sorry I can’t identify the book in question.  However, here’s a link to a fantastic Fairy Tale site that has a discussion board:

    Good luck, Alia.  The book sounds fascinating.  Doesn’t sound like any of the Lang “color” collections.  I read most of them, and naked women were certainly not featured in the illustrations!

  2. 2
    Jen says:

    I would contact your local library’s reference desk.  If the librarians there can’t tell you, I would bet that they have someone in their vast network of fellow librarians who could find out!

  3. 3
    Kayla Kacer says:

    I haven’t been able to find anything that has a cover like you describe, but I did find information on Joseph Jacobs, Jorgen Moe, and Peter Christen Asbjornsen. All of whom compiled fairytale collections in the later 1800’s to early 1900’s and it’s possible the book you had could have been a reprint. Anyway they include The Master Maid and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.  I also found some great links, this one lists The Master Maid toward the middle so perhaps if you would find Nowegian Folk Tales in Print this is it.
    I also found tons of information in regards to the authors using wikipedia which while not 100% reliable is a good place to start.
    Joseph Jacobs in Particular stand out to me.
    He has several collections and on the side of the page of the link I listed above are some extremely colorful pictures though I don’t see one with a cover picture as you describe.

    I hope this helps!

  4. 4
    Barb says:

    Thank you for getting your link to SurLaLune to work.  That was the site I was trying to link to, when my post ate the link!

    Barb now slinks away and hopes that my follow-on posts (perhaps with the link, perhaps not) fail to see the light of day.

  5. 5
    Heidi Anne Heiner says:

    I’m pretty sure you seek World Tales: The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places by Idries Shah. The Amazon page for the ISBN 015199434X even has some illustrations to see.

    And despite being SurLaLune, I often can’t get these but this one was descriptive and timelined well enough to figure it out.

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    I think your illustrator might be Frederick Richardson.  East o’ the sun and west o’ the moon

    Look here.  Does that look familiar?  It’s from a 1912 edition of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”

    [Edited by Sarah to keep the beautiful but huge image from breaking the site.]

  7. 7
    Kirsten says:

    I think it might be The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. It has the stories you mentioned, East of the Sun West of the Moon and The Master Maid. A guy named Lancelot Speed illustrated some of Lang’s books and the example pic I saw in Wikipedia was very lush and colorful.

    I might add that I had several different editions of Andrew Lang’s books as a kid. They all were out as Dover editions, and I also had a heavily illustrated and edited version of The Orange Fairy Book. So just because the books were originally published a hundred plus years ago doesn’t mean that you didn’t have a more contemporary version.

  8. 8
    Heidi Anne Heiner says:

    I wrote a post on my blog about this book at  There are a few editions of it, but the first edition sounds exactly like what Alia describes, insect surrounded nude and all…

  9. 9
    Janette says:

    If it’s one of the many Andrew Lang Fairy Books you can easily see a full view of it on the Google book although I don’t recall seeing any naked people in any them.

  10. 10
    Erin says:

    Kay Nielsen did the illustrations for East of the Sun, West of the Moon as well as The Arabian Nights.  His illustrations were so beautiful.

    I collect Kay Nielsen Illustrations I just think they are so gorgeous.

    Sorry, if I’m going overboard but Kay Nielsen’s work is one of my great interests lol.

    The book is:

  11. 11
    Alissa says:

    Could it be the series of collections of Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs? Illustrations are by John D. Batten. I have them all right here – they are some of my most treasured books!

  12. 12
    MaryK says:

    I love fairy tales though my favorites are novelizations.  Don’t mind me – just commenting to subscribe. :)

  13. 13
    alia says:

    oh, i’m going to cry, you did it! thank you, guys!

    It *is* World Tales, just like Heidi Anne suggested. Thank you so much!
    (And thank you to the other guesses—they were certainly reasonable based on the paltry evidence I gave, and I may look them up, as well. One can never have too many fairy tale collections, right?)

    I’m going to go have goosebumps now… and buy three copies. I can’t lose it again…

    Thank you thank you thank you!

    although28 years have passed since I last saw this book, it left a huge impression on me (those captcha words are uncanny.)

  14. 14
    Foz Meadows says:

    I have this book! World Tales is an awesome collection :)

  15. 15
    MaryK says:

    @Foz Meadows
    Inquiring minds & potential purchasers want to know – are the stories really badly written or was that just mom’s excuse?

  16. 16
    trix says:

    I thought I would note that there’s a reprint of the 1914 edition reproducing all of the original illustrations –

    Not the first edition, but pretty damn beautiful. :)

  17. 17
    Niki says:

    @Erin, thank you!!!  My mother had a copy of East of the Sun, West of the moon when I was a child.  The illustrations stuck with me as much as, or more than, some of the stories.  I am going to pick up a copy for my baby girl.

  18. 18
    PoetBelle says:

    Aww your welcome.  My grandmother had a copy and like you the illustrations from Kay Nielsen have stuck with me for a lifetime.  I’m glad your daughter will have a chance to read and treasure it too.  Erin

  19. 19
    Kristi Luchi says:

    I know you’ve already found the book, but is anyone as surprised as I am that the one story that she cited, called ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ is basically the same story of the greek story of Cupid and Psyche? It was in Lucius Apuleius’ novel, The Golden Ass. Here’s the wiki link:

    I just… wondered what it was called in the book she had, because it was written in 2 A.D.

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