|Born||21 August 1886
|Died||12 October 1988 (aged 102)
Ruth Manning-Sanders (21 August 1886 – 12 October 1988) was a Welsh poet and author who was perhaps best known for her series of children's books in which she collected and retold fairy tales from all over the world. The dust jacket for A Book of Giants aptly describes her writing style: "Mrs. Manning-Sanders tells the stories with wit and good humor. There is not a word wasted."
Ruth Vernon Manning was the youngest of three daughters of John Manning, an English Unitarian minister. She was born in Swansea, Wales, but, when she was 3, her family moved to Cheshire, England. As a child, she had a great interest in reading books on many topics. She and her two sisters wrote and acted in their own plays. She described her childhood as "extraordinarily happy ... with kind and understanding parents and any amount of freedom."
Some great insight into her childhood, and perhaps her inspirations, comes from an autobiographical story she tells in the foreword to Scottish Folk Tales:
When were children, my sisters and I, we spent our summer holidays in a farmhouse at the edge of a sea loch in the Highlands. The farmer's family was a big one, ranging from Granny Stewart (very old, very lame, and generally laughing) down through parents, grown-up sons and daughters, to children of our own age. Granny Stewart knew no end of stories, and she loved to tell them as much as we loved to listen. ... Of course, we weren't always listening to stories: that was a wet weather pastime. At other times we were out swimming, or riding the farm horses (when they allowed themselves to be caught) or boating on the loch and singing to the seals. ...The evenings would usually find us gathered in the big candle-lit barn, with one of the grown-up sons (either Jock or Lachie) marching up and down playing the bagpipes, and all the rest of us energetically dancing reels. What fun we had! But I think the highlight of all these holidays came on my tenth birthday. On the evening before this birthday (unknown to us children) a gipsy with a dancing bear arrived at the farm, asking to be ferried across the loch. With a good supper of cheese and oatcakes, and a bed of straw in a disused stable, the gipsy was easily persuaded to stay the night. Imagine my joyous surprise when, on running out the next morning after breakfast, I saw the bear on a grass plat close to the quay, waiting to go through his tricks. ... And when the tricks had been duly performed, with ample rewards of 'sugar and spice and all things nice' between each one, the bear was led down to the waiting boat, clambered in, and seated himself in the stern, like the seasoned traveller he was. I remember it so vividly: the bear with his humped brown back and heavy head, the two rowers watching his every movement rather anxiously, and ourselves standing in a group on the quay, shouting our farewells. But not once did that bear turn to give us a parting glance. His eyes were fixed on the opposite shore, where doubtless he would go through his performance all over again: though never, surely, to a more appreciative audience... (The name of the farm, by the way, was Shian, which means the place where fairies live.)
Manning-Sanders studied English literature and Shakespearean studies at Manchester University. She married English artist George Sanders in 1911 (they changed their name to Manning-Sanders) and spent much of her early married life touring Great Britain with a horse-drawn caravan and working in the circus (a topic she wrote about extensively). Eventually, the family moved into a cottage in the fishing hamlet of Land's End, Cornwall. She and her husband had two children together, one of whom, Joan Floyd (May 17, 1913, to May 9, 2002), found some fame as a teenage artist in the 1920s while under her maiden name of Joan Manning-Sanders.
After World War II and the accidental death of her husband (in 1952), Manning-Sanders published dozens of fairy-tale anthologies, mostly during the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them had titles beginning with "A Book of..." Some titles, therefore, were A Book of Wizards, A Book of Dwarfs, and so forth.
There can be no new fairy tales. They are records of the time when the world was very young; and never, in these latter days, can they, or anything like them, be told again. Should you try to invent a new fairy tale you will not succeed: the tale rings false, the magic is spurious. For the true world of magic is ringed round with high, high walls that cannot be broken down. There is but one little door in the high walls which surround that world -- the little door of 'once upon a time and never again.' And so it must suffice that we can enter through that little door into the fairy world and take our choice of all its magic.
In the forewords to some fairy-tale compilations, Manning-Sanders discusses the origins of the tales she is retelling. The stories in A Book of Dragons hail from Greece, China, Japan, Macedonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany, among other places. Manning-Sanders goes out of her way to state that "not all dragons want to gobble up princesses." She thus includes tales of kind and proud dragons, along with the savage ones.
Some insight into how Manning-Sanders believes fairy tales should usually end can be gleaned from a passage in her foreword to A Book of Witches:
Now in all these stories, as in fairy tales about witches in general, you may be sure of one thing: however terrible the witches may seem -- and whatever power they may have to lay spells on people and to work mischief -- they are always defeated. ... Because it is the absolute and very comforting rule of the fairy tale that the good and brave shall be rewarded, and that bad people shall come to a bad end.
Along those same lines, Manning-Sanders notes in the foreword to A Book of Princes and Princesses:
And so you will find, as you read these stories, that they all have one thing in common. Though they come from many different countries, and were told long, long ago by simple people separated that they may not even have known of each other's existence, yet the stories these people told are all alike in this: they every one have a happy ending.
While many of the tales Manning-Sanders relates in her various fairy-tale anthologies are not commonly known, she also includes stories about some famous literary and cultural characters, such as Baba Yaga, Jack the Giant-Killer, Anansi, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Robin Hood and Aladdin.
In the February 1989 issue of The Junior Bookshelf, M.S. Crouch wrote, "For many long-lived writers, death is followed by eclipse. I hope that publishers will (continue to re-release Manning-Sanders') priceless treasury of folk-tales. We would all be the poorer for their loss."
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