"Call me Bathsheba." Thus opens Patrick Ness's novel, The Ocean Was Our Sky. (I giggled, remembering the opening to James Thurber's The Wonderful O: "Call me Littlejack,' he roared. And the taverners called him Littlejack.") An obsessed captain hunting a villainous Toby Wick? Surely this must be a joke, a parody of Moby Dick. It works by inversion: ocean for sky, whales who hunt whalers. A female narrator, Bathsheba, against Melville's Ishmael. But the book isn't funny: it's heartbreaking and weird, and Rovina Cai's illustrations are as important as the text.
Picturing a World
The election results are in. And by chance, they were celebrating this day 407 years ago. Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah! (Image from a 17th C French manuscript, « Le discours de l'entrée (7 nov. 1613) de Messeigneurs le duc d'Espernon et marquis de La Vallette en la ville de Metz, avec les pourtraits des arcs triomphaux », par « D. Jacquet » (1614).)
An edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore has been my bedtime reading for the last few days of the presidential campaign and should get me through to tomorrow's aftermath. It's lovely. I'm not sure when I last read the novel—maybe as much as thirty years ago when Ruth Sanderson's beautiful edition was published. When I opened this book, I knew I would have adored it as a child and was going to enjoy it now. In my conceit as a garden historian, though, I thought its illustrations of the Misselthwaite grounds were a bit over the top—much too complicated and big to be maintained by the one gardener I remembered from the story. Well, I was wrong.
I love artists' imaginative renditions of archeological sites. A set of post holes, some jewelry, and a collection of animal bones may say a lot to a specialist but not so much to the rest of us until the artist gets to work. Then voilà, a picture of an early medieval stock-raising village in Pontarlier, France. Here I can actually imagine myself viewing the town from a hillside—and then walking down into it. It really helps that the surrounding topography is provided as well. I've never tried to sketch a scene for one of my stories, but I do make rough maps and diagrams of house interiors. Whatever works to stimulate and amplify the imagination—and at the moment give brief respite from climate change, pandemic, and election anxieties!
Via Merovingian-era settlement excavated in France at The History Blog
Blog post alert and appeal: The always interesting James Gurney has posted what I'd call the image of the day in Voter Line. Read him, study his technique if you are a watercolorist—and if you haven't voted, VOTE!
Website alert: Artists in the Archive celebrates the work of artists who have been given fellowships to incorporate materials at the American Antiquarian Society into their creative work. The Society, located in Worcester, Massachusetts, holds the world's largest collection of materials printed in America between 1640 and 1876. Since 1995, it has offered fellowships to creative and performing artists to explore these resources and incorporate what they find into new works. The results have included, not only historical fiction like The Age of Phillis, but book art by Stephanie Wolff, comics by R. Sikoryak, music by Lisa Bielawa, and much, much more. The sample at this retrospective website alone will set your mind dancing off in new directions.
In tidying up some computer files, I came across this whiz-bang drawing of a moving house by Albert Robida. It made me laugh all over again. Look at the lass pointing an umbrella on the lower porch balcony—she could be Myrtle in Philip Reeve's very funny steampunk novel, Larklight! In fact, David Wyatt may well have been partially inspired by Robida for his wonderful period-flavor, Larklight illustrations.
Sometimes a picture gives a lift to the heart. I had a dog, Badger, named for the white stripe up his black face. Because I loved him dearly, badgers have become my totem animal. This morning I was cheered to run across this image in illustrator Danielle Barlow's new Green Wheel Oracle. Whatever helps you through the day (let alone the night)! For more of Barlow's Dartmoor landscapes and evocative mythic illustrations, click here. And thank you, Myth and Moor, for Telling stories back to the land, which puts Barlow's work in context.
A blog post, The Spectacle of Paris Streets, has just alerted me to a book I wish I had known about when I was researching Where the Light Falls: A Travers Paris par Crafty. For instance, I'd never thought of large trees being planted on a Parisian boulevard until I saw this image. It's the sort of sight that could cause a character to loiter, or spark a train of thought, or even somehow play into the action of a story. Or it could prompt an imaginative excursion: what if there were a world where a steampunk technology was used by trees to facilitate their own migration? The whole book is worth exploring.