Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Some of the books that helped to inspire Ruth Manning-Sanders

There's really interesting news this week regarding Ruth Manning-Sanders (1888-1988), the English poet and author who wrote dozens of beloved books for which she collected and retold folk and fairy tales from the all over the world.

Many books from Ruth's personal library — the actual copies that inspired and informed the unique style she built as a teller of tales — are up for auction now at Lay's Auctioneers in the United Kingdom. I've included the pictures from handful of the lots in this post.

Copies of many of her own books, including her early fiction and poetry, appear in the auction listings, too. But, to me, the most fascinating lots involve the books by others that once sat on her shelves. The very books she read, possibly from childhood in some instances, and that worked their way into her fiber. For example, there an many volumes of Lang's Fairy Books, each with a color in its title, that were published between 1889 and 1913 by Andrew Lang and his wife, Leonora Blanche Alleyne.

There are dozens of other titles, too, collected into lots. This is just a small sampling, from reading the listings and zooming in on the pictures of the spines:
  • Scandinavian Legends and Folk-Tales by Gwyn Jones
  • Russian Tales & Legends by Charles Downing
  • The Fairies in Tradition and Literature by K.M. Briggs
  • Legends and Folk Lore of the Scottish Lowlands by M.V. Jack
  • Bygone Lancashire by Ernest Axon
  • Legend of the Micmacs by Silas Tertius Rand
  • Hero-Tales & Legends of the Serbians by Woislav M. Petrovitch
  • Greek Folk Poesy by Lucy Mary Jane Garnett and John S. Stuart-Glennie 
A few lots contain fairy tale books in languages other than English. We know from biographical information that Ruth had an important collaborator regarding these volumes. Joan Manning-Sanders (1913-2002) helped to research the stories that her mother then retold. Family members say that Joan learned to read French, German, Russian and several other languages in order to discover new source material for her mother. The magic wouldn’t have happened without this mother-daughter teamwork.

I'm going to see if I can get lucky with the winning bid for something, because it would be a treasure to have some of these volumes alongside my Manning-Sanders collection. But I have no idea how these auctions will play out on the other side of the pond. 

In a dream scenario, all of these books would remain together at the Ruth Manning-Sanders Children's Library and Archives in some quaint village along the coast of Cornwall. But that's not in the cards, and no such place exists. Maybe the next best thing is for them to fan out to new homes. Ruth spent much of her life pulling fairy tales from all over the world into her orbit. Now, the process can reverse itself, and those fairy tale volumes from her library can go back out in the world in a Big Bang of imagination, inspiring future generations.


  1. I don't know Ruth Manning-Sanders - I'm from Southwest Germany - but the picture of the German fairy tale books gave me a huge flashback to my childhood!
    When I was a child and teenager, our local library had a whole shelf full of these books and I loved the look of all the beautiful spines together. As I obviously had neither the space nor money to own them myself, I at least wanted to read each one of them and also read them to my little brother, but I don't think I ever made it all the way through. So many books to read, so little time.
    That was 45 to 50 years ago, and the library doesn't have the books anymore, but the happy memory remains.

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  3. Hopefully someone managed to buy them all or make a detailed bibliography of the books that were there. Some of these stories need a bit freshening to be retold for this new generation of readers.