Andrew Lang edited a long series of fairy and story books for children; particularly well known are the eleven coloured Fairy Books which appeared between 1889 (the Blue Fairy Book) and 1910 (the Lilac Fairy Book), all of them being published by Longmans and illustrated by H.J. Ford.
The present watercolour illustrates an episode from 'The Comb and the Collar', which is included in the Olive Fairy Book, 1907. The story centres on the son and daughter of the King of Lombardy and the son and daughter, Perarthrites and Ferrandina, of his cousin, the Archdeacon of Placenza. The Archdeacon had been driven mad, and in an attempt to cure him the ministers of Placenza consulted an enchantress, who gave them a comb in a case and a steel collar fastened by a gold key. She advised them to 'carry this comb and the collar to every court until you find a lady beautiful enough to unlock the collar, and a man good enough to draw the comb from its case. When you have discovered these, you can return whence you came.' The ministers eventually arrived at the court of Lombardy, where the King's son removed the comb from the case and his sister unlocked the collar. Immediately they were caught up in a whirlwind and carried off in separate directions. The Princess was left in the midst of a thick forest surrounded by snarling wolves; however, they fled on sight of the collar, and the Princess was rescued and led to safety by a snow white fox.
The Prince, in turn, was marooned on a beach, where he encountered a beautiful maiden, who having been put under a spell, was forced daily to assume the form of a crocodile. She, on seeing the comb, fled from his sight. He was prevented from destroying the comb by the snow white fox, who led him to his sister. However, suddenly the fox fell down, shot with an arrow from the mad Archdeacon, who had also injured the King of Lombardy. The only way to save the life of the white fox was to place the collar around his neck. As the Princess did this the fox was transformed into Perarthrites, the son of the Archdeacon of Placenza. The Prince then combed the skin of the crocodile and transformed it into the Archdeacon's daughter, Ferrandina. The two couples were married and Perarthrites and his bride returned to Placenza and Ferrandina and her husband to Lombardy.