Lang, Andrew


Lang, Andrew
(1844-1912)
   Born in Scotland, and passionately interested in Scottish topics all his life, Lang also had an immense impact on the development of general British folklore studies in the late 19th century. His publications range very widely, but his interest in folklore was inspired by 'Tylor's anthropological writings - particularly Primitive Culture (1871). Lang sprang into the public limelight with what proved to be the first of many public controversies in which he engaged, when an article in the Fortnightly Review (May 1873) took on Max Miiller and the other leading figures of the 'philological school' of solar mythologists, who believed that the study of language was the primary key to the understanding of myths. Lang propounded instead a comparative anthropological approach which brought in evidence from 'savage' cultures on a worldwide basis rather than the relatively narrow Indo-European base of Miiller. Lang's timing was excellent, as the philologists' arguments were already somewhat outmoded, and he not only won the day but gave a popular face to the new folklore, and himself, at a stroke. He continued to develop his comparative method, and he joined the 'Folklore Society on its formation in 1878, serving as its President in 1889-91. Lang described his comparative method in several of his books, such as:
   Our method, then, is to compare the seemingly meaningless customs or manners of civilised races with the similar customs and manners which exist among the uncivilised and still retain their meaning. It is not necessary for comparison of this sort that the uncivilised and the civilised race should be of the same stock, nor need we prove that they were ever in contact with each other. Similar conditions of mind produce similar practices, apart from identity of race or borrowing of ideas and manners. (Custom and Magic, new edn., 1904: 21-2)
   This 'survivals theory is predicated on the belief that all human cultures or civilizations pass through the same evolutionary stages, but that at any given time some are more advanced than others. Unfortunately, this willingness - even eagerness on Lang's part - to pile example upon example from different periods and different places was precisely the element of 'folklore method' which got the discipline such a bad name in academic circles from the early 20th century onwards.
   One of Lang's most popular projects - for which he is still remembered - was a series of twelve annual volumes of fairytale books, starting with the Blue Fairy Book (1889) and the Red Fairy Book (1890). For these, Lang and his wife (and other helpers) drew on a wide range of sources, including the Arabian Nights and various mythologies, and retold them in a style suitable for Victorian children. They are thus of little use to the scholar, but they were tremendously popular and introduced several generations to myths and folktales. 'The readers who looked to Andrew Lang for entertainment far outnumbered those who sought instruction from him' (obituary, 359).
   Apart from the tendency to speak his mind, another reason for Lang's often strained relationships with his fellow folklorists was that he clearly believed in some psychic phenomena such as ghosts and even fairies, and was involved also in the Society for Psychical Research, which he joined in 1904 and later served as their President. He called for a 'scientific approach to the supernatural', and coined the term 'psycho-folklorist', but his evident belief and 'open-mindedness' on such topics was hardly calculated to appeal to those who were working so hard to convince the world of folklore's serious scientific credentials and to distance themselves from the immensely popular spiritualism and occultism. There were many times when the poet and romantic in Lang overcame the scholar.
   Other books by Lang include Cock Lane and Common-Sense (1894); The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897); The Making of Religion (1898); Magic and Religion (1901). See also the long-running column 'At the Sign of the Ship' in Longman's Magazine (1885-1905).
   ■ Obituaries in Folk-Lore 23 (1912), 358-75; Roger Lancelyn Green, Andrew Lang (1946); Dorson, 1968: 206-20.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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  • Lang, Andrew —    D.Litt., etc. (b. 1844)    Poet, critic, and folklorist. Ballads and Lyrics of Old France (1872), Ballads in Blue China (1880), Custom and Myth (1884), Books and Bookmen (1886), Mark of Cain (1886), Myth, Ritual, and Religion (1887), Blue, Red …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

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  • Lang (surname) — Lang is a surname of English, Scottish and German origin. It is similar to Lange and Long.People surnamed LangAmerican*Lang, Andrew, (born 1966), U.S. basketball player *Lang, Eddie (1902 1933), U.S. jazz guitarist *Lang, Glen, U.S. businessman… …   Wikipedia

  • Lang — (spr. läng), Andrew, engl. Schriftsteller, geb. 31. März 1844 in Selkirk, lebt in St. Andrews; veröffentlichte die Dichtungen »Helen of Troy« (1882), »Rhymes à la mode« (1884), »Grass of Parnassus« (1888); in Prosa: »Custom and myth« (1884),… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

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