Scottish historian and folklore scholar. His writings include historical works; anthropological studies, such as Myth, Ritual and Religion (1887) and The Making of Religion (1898), which involved him in controversy with the anthropologist James G Frazer; novels; and the series of children's books which he inspired and edited, beginning with The Blue Fairy Book (1889).
He was born in Selkirk and was educated at Edinburgh Academy, St Andrews and Glasgow universities, and Balliol College, Oxford; he was a fellow of Merton College from 1868–74. His earliest published work was a volume of graceful verse, The Ballads and Lyrics of Old France (1872), which was followed by other similar volumes. In the realm of folklore and anthropology, Lang produced Custom and Myth (1884), Magic and Religion (1901), Social Origins (1903), and The Secret of the Totem (1905). As a historian he was keenly interested in unravelling mysteries, as in The Mystery of Mary Stuart (1901) and John Knox (1905). His History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation (1900–07) is written from a royalist, anti-Calvinist standpoint. He also interested himself on behalf of the Young Pretender in Pickle the Spy (1897), The Companions of Pickle (1898), and Prince Charles Edward (1900).
Lang was also a classical scholar of high standing, apparent in Homer and the Epic (1893) and Homer and his Age (1906), and in his translations of Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus (1880), The Homeric Hymns (1899), and, with others, the Odyssey (1879) and the Iliad (1883).