Children’s Literature Volume, 39, (2011)
A thoroughly English author intensely involved in the period’s issues, Morley brought to his work a keen social conscience balanced by an equally assertive fancy bordering on anarchic glee. In his tales we detect a tipping point that heralds Lewis Carroll’s brilliant Alice campaign against strait-laced manners and morals.
Of the neglected masters of Victorian fantasy, Henry Morley has special claim on our attention. As his illustrator Charles Bennett put it, “Your fairy tales are fuller of notions, conceits, and good honest daring absurdity than anything modern I know” (qtd. in Solly 244). Morley’s two volumes, Fables and Fairy Tales (1859) and Oberon’s Horn (1860), arguably the most accomplished collections of original English tales to that date, stand at the threshold of the burgeoning 1860s, when “the defences of [. . .] literary conservatism were down” sufficiently for works displaying “a delight in the imaginative, the exotic and the funny” to be welcomed by both children and supervising adults.