John Ruskin was an art critic and social commentator, and an influential supporter of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. This is Ruskin’s only published work of fiction, and is an early example of a literary fantasy written specifically for a child. Ruskin wrote the fairy tale in 1841 in response to a request from 13-year old Euphemia Gray, known as ‘Effie’. Seven years later they married. The fairy tale was not published for a decade and Ruskin was not initially named as the author.

Ruskin later wrote that he believed children should not be bombarded with overtly moralistic literature, but instead should be allowed to read fairy tales purely for pleasure; however there is a strong sense of the triumph of good over evil in his own tale. The story contains all the typical fairy tale ingredients (and Ruskin acknowledged the influence of the Brothers Grimm): three brothers, two of whom are grasping and greedy, while the third is kind-hearted; dwarfs; unexpected visitors; and hospitality rewarded.

The frontispiece and illustrations for the book are by Richard Doyle, a distinguished Victorian illustrator who drew the famous cover picture for Punch magazine, in use for over a century.