THE OLIVE FAIRY BOOK By Andrew Lang, introduction by Jane Yolen (The Folio Society, 272 pages, $84.95)
Yes, $85 is a lot of money to spend for a collection of stories that are also available for less than $10 in paperback — or free on Kindle. But oh, this book is lovely. And oh, how it immerses the reader in the magical world of fairy tales the way an all-digital e-file never could. The Folio Society has long been known for making beautiful editions of classic books, and they have been releasing Andrew Lang’s colored fairy tale collections — green, yellow, blue, red, and others — two a year since 2003.
This edition of “The Olive Fairy Book” is whimsical, magical and mysterious, as befitting the world of magic. It’s big — lapsized — but not heavy. It’s slipcased in a dark-red box. The book jacket is embossed, olive and red, and the endpapers are olive and gold. New (but old-fashioned) full-page illustrations by English artist Kate Baylay are entrancing — maidens with long, rippling hair, star-studded night skies, bloodthirsty tigers, heart-shaped apples, mysterious onion-domed castles in the distance.
The stories collected here are from all over the world — France, India, Turkey, and beyond. “It is my wish that children should be allowed to choose their own book,” Lang writes in his preface to the original edition. “Let their friends give them the money and turn them loose in the book shops!”
It is hard to imagine a child who would not make a beeline to this one. The book is available on the Folio Society website, where it notes that delivery by Christmas is guaranteed for orders through Dec. 18.
THE TRAVELS OF MARCO POLO By Marco Polo, edited by Morris Rossabi (Sterling Signature, 377 pages, $40.
This is another beautifully made book, another to stir the soul and get the imagination flying. In Marco Polo's own words (translated by Henry Yule and revised by Henri Cordier), you can re-live his amazing 13th century travels through the Far East, all the way to China and the court of the Kubla Khan.
Marco Polo's style is arcane, but that only adds to the sense of wonderment in the scenes he describes: "In this region" (he is writing about Tibet) "you find quantities of canes, full three palms in girth and fifteen paces in length, with some three palms' interval between the joints. And let me tell you that merchants and other travellers through that country are wont at nightfall to gather these canes and make fires of them, for as they burn they make such loud reports that the lions and bears and other wild beasts are greatly frightened, and make off as fast as possible; in fact, nothing will induce them to come nigh a fire of that sort."
The book is fully illustrated with antique maps, illuminated manuscripts, occasional photographs, and ancient scrolls and paintings. A book for dreamers, for travelers, for history buffs.