Spectrum of Fiction

7. Chapbook

Chapbooks are small paper-covered books, usually 8-32 pages, sold for as little as a halfpenny and most often for sixpence or less. Chapbooks began as a sort of printed folklore. Early popular stories disseminated by travelling salesmen or colporteurs included secular adventure narratives such as Jack and the Giants and Robin Hood. They had quaint woodcut illustrations similar to garlands, but had broader scope than the ballads; they retold old romances and fairy tales, ancient battles, superstitions and riddles, interpreted dreams, foretold the future etc. Religious organizations such as the Religious Tract Society used chapbooks to communicate with downmarket readers. Later chapbooks were reprints of traditional tales or adapted from middle-class novels. Chapbooks based on the same tale or novel could vary in content, theme, language, format, and price.