Still have not located book but thank you all for trying to help. A special thanks to Hypnosifl and scary who have provided the best leads for this extremely elusive book.

Okay I'm going to just start off by saying it is not by The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen or Andrew Lang. I have read through all of their works that I could find online, bought a supposed complete collection of the Grimm's books, so unless it is some obscure forgotten tale by any of them please don't point me there.

Some back story:

I was at a daycare where an older lady (50+ years) noticed I read a lot and asked if I would be interested in a old book of fairy tales. I said yes and she brought it in. She warned me to be careful, for it was very old. It was filled with dark illustrations and the tales where morbid, more morbid than any other fairytale book I have read, including all the authors listed above.

Now on to some stories from it that I remember:

  1. The book contains a retelling or translated version of "The green mist" by Marie Clothilde Balfour

  2. It also contains some version of "Catherine and her Destiny". I think this was also one of the stories in the book, a girl was visited by something I believe it came through her window she was most likely a princess or some other form of nobility anyway it asked her a question along the lines of "would you rather live a easy young life and a hard old one or a hard young life and a easy old one" she answered "well I suppose I would like a hard young life and a easy old one that way I have something to look forward to because I know the hard times won't last". That night her kingdom was attacked and her family murdered she somehow ended up in slavery or just working really hard somewhere, she lived a long time that way until she married a man I'm not sure if he was her owner or how they met but they fell in love and then she was reunited with her mother and maybe a sibling and they rejoiced for the hard times had come to an end.

  3. There was a woman who would lie a lot and exclaim, "if I'm lying may the world open up and swallow me whole"; one day it did.

  4. There was a girl who was dying and wished to live long enough to see some flowers bloom, and I think they where growing outside her window. A woman, her mother I think, told her not to wish that and was scared for her because she thought some evil things might hear her. Well I guess they did, and they made her better. She got well, fell in love, and one day her lover unknowingly picked the flowers growing outside her window and made them into a crown that he placed on her head. She freaked out and the next morning or shortly afterwards she was found dead in her bed and she was as dry and lifeless as the flowers she clutched in her hand.

  5. I recalled another one of the short stories but please read carefully. I have found versions of the tale over and over but its not the same one. You've probably heard of this one A man cuts of a cat or some beasts paw and the next day he notices his wife is missing a hand. Except in this version I think there were two shecat/witch/beast/women. There also was a boat chase that led them to an island where the women died. There may have only been one woman I apologize for my hazy memory. I know for sure it contained the witch going across water fleeing on a boat.

There where many short stories in the book if I remember more I will update. The illustration I most remember was a forest or something. I remember this really creepy tree. I hope I provided enough information. Thank you for your time.

I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to view this though I really hope someone could give me answers soon as it seems I'll likely never find this book.

There is a possibility that it contained legends or myths in the title but I wouldn't put much credit in it.

  • 1
    @Oldcat Well the ones I can remeber that are not listed on this are just really fuzzy images so I didn't list them for fear of leading people who might possibly be able to answer on a wild goose chase since i'm not sure if they truly where in in this book. Some woman carrying around baby without a head in her village convinced he could be saved if they sewed it back on.. Three brothers getting lost and when one died a tree bled and i'm pretty sure a man in a rage killed his wife and then raped his own daughter when she got older and started to look like her mother. Thanks for the comment.
    – user25063
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:27
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    The story you mention about choosing an easy youth vs. old age is an Italian folktale which often goes by the name "Catherine and her fate", see tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/CatherineAndHerFate , which is included in the Italo Calvino book timbp mentioned. But searching inside the book, I don't see anything about someone wanting to live to see flowers bloom or getting swallowed by the earth, so it could be some other collection of Italian folktales, or just a general collection of folktales/fairy tales from all over.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 16:09
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    BTW, an alternate title for that is "Catherine and Her Destiny" (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_and_her_Destiny for instance), you could try googling either title, or searching on books.google.com to see if you recognize any of the covers of books with that story inside.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 16:20
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    @user25063 -- Hmm, in Catherine and Her Destiny she marries the king, but if you're sure she was married to a common man in the one you read, I found another old folk tale that might be a better candidate, called "The Slave Mother": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slave_Mother ...it can also be found in the Italo Calvino book.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 22:16
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    Your story of how you came to read these stories sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale itself.
    – jcm
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 6:03

6 Answers 6


The one with the "girl who was dying and wished to live long enough to see some flowers bloom" is "The Green Mist" from the folklore collection "Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars". As far as I remember, this story was adapted and used in a few different fairy tale/folklore collections for children. eg: Katharine Briggs in her Dictionary of British Folk-tales.

  • Hi OP here and A thousand blessings upon you that's definitely most likely the first source of the fairytale I have been searching for! Now here's the problems 1.The book I read had way more then just ten stories in it 2.I can barely read the tale now that is not want I read as a child. It had to be a translated retelling 3.Apparently it's a rare fairytale (No freaking way I mean naaah really?) 4. I can't find it anywhere but this site cantab.net/users/michael.behrend/repubs/balfour_lincs_cars/…
    – user25063
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 12:46

This element:

would you rather live a easy young life and a hard old one or a hard young life and a easy old one" she answered "well I suppose I would like a hard young life and a easy old one that way I have something to look forward to because I know the hard times won't last".

I'm pretty sure comes from a story about Baba Yaga, though it's probably an element that appears in lots of folk tales. I had a book of Russian folk tales with it in but I can't find it after moving house.

  • It's from Italian, Catherine and Her Destiny, which is found in Andrew Lang's Pink Fairy Book -- which can not be the book intended, because it does not match the other stories. A version here: etc.usf.edu/lit2go/145/the-pink-fairy-book/4824/…
    – Mary
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 1:26

The book is: Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales by Robert D. San Souci.

I found this thread because I was looking for the last tale you mentioned about the wife/witch cat paw with water and boats being in the story. It was driving me mad that I could find similar stories but not the one I remembered. Somewhere on the web Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was suggested but the described story was not what I remembered. By coincidence I had a different scary story collection for kids in my car (a friend had given me it for my birthday a few years back but since I already owned it I leave it in my car in case I need a book for the doctor's waiting room). Out of chance and to prove to my coworker that I'm not crazy I went and looked at that book and to my ecstatic surprise it was in that collection. (It has "The Green Mist" as well).

  • Note: If this identification is correct, #3 might be "Swallowed Alive"
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 23:20

Possibly the book (or books) you are thinking of could be Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl or a collection of the works of Saki (H H Munro) whose stories are rather unsettling. The Saki stories were all written before WW1 (Munro was killed at the Battle of Ancre in November 1916) which would fit in with description of the book being "very old." On a lighter note older 50+ is not a truism, I am 64 and still in the first flush of youth (grin).

  • Unlikely it's that book by Dahl. There's synopses at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_Unexpected_(book) and none of them match. Similarly, Saki's works at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saki#Works don't match either.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 16:20
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    @colonel ray Unfortunately I don't think it's by him and upon googling him and his work's I discovered I had already checked him out sigh I'm starting to think the older woman who gave me the book was a fairytale witch meant to tempt me with stories I shall never find again.Oh if it helps the lady who lent me the book was probably in her 60's around 2001.
    – user25063
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 21:24

Maybe Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier? It's an old book full of short fantasy stories, but I've not read it recently enough to tell you if any of the descriptions match up.


Could it be Secret Books of Paradys by Tanith Lee? I no longer have a copy of any of the books but something rang a bell.

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