"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
Last night, tired of political news, I surfed the 'net and found an astonishing collection of dragon images at Tor.com. It goes on and on. I scrolled and scrolled. Most are 20th and 21st C illustrations for fantasy fiction, which vary from cheesy to brilliant. Even the cheesy ones are so professionally executed that if you love dragon pictures, you'll get a kick out of them. Scattered throughout, moreover, are older images from Renaissance Italy to Chinese scrolls to William Blake—and this one by Thomas Cooper Gotch. It stopped me and held me; and this morning it sent me into a variation of Natasha Pulley's writing exercise.
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.
For those of us who love Tolkien's Middlearth, September 22nd is a red-letter day not only as the first day of fall but as the shared birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. In a recent Myth and Moor post on The Mythic Art of Alan Lee, the illustrator is quoted as saying "I don't think I've ever seen a drawing of a hobbit which quite convinces me." All I can say is, this 15th C bas-de-page detail is a good place to start! And if you can, sit out under a tree and have a little something in honor of Bilbo and Frodo.
From the dust jacket: "Tatterdemalion is a collaboration between writer Sylvia V. Linsteadt and painter Rima Staines. Together they have created a vivid post-apocalyptic novel in which the northern California of the future is imagined through images and stories rooted deep in the traditions of European folk tales."
I bought a hardback copy of the Unbound edition of Tatterdemalion because I love Rima Staines' art but can't afford an original painting. If I understand Linsteadt's post, A Needle, An Egg, A Novel Being Born at Folklore Thursday, she, too was responding to the pictures but the two of them created the novel together. Certainly, their contributions combine synergistically to elicit dreams, fears, imaginings of what the future holds for the human and more-than-human world. It's a book that haunts me.
Throughout December, I treated myself to slowly working through Jackie Morris's Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, which was as wonderful as I had hoped. Now with Christmas behind me, I am going through it again, and it's better than ever.
In a post at Folklore Thursday, Some Words about the Quiet Music, Morris tells how the book originated in designs for Christmas cards in support of Help Musicians UK and how the imagery led to stories. And not only hers: "The cards began to gather their own stories, connections made between those who sent them, received, later found cards."
Yesterday, I attended a meeting about changes to a Massachusetts program to promote solar energy in the Commonwealth and then came home to read Terri Windling's blog post on Art and Activism. The post is illustrated by absorbing gouache and watercolor paintings by the wonderful artist, Kristin Bjornerud. Her pictures can inspire writers, maybe by literally suggesting a story line, maybe by leading to idiosyncratic explorations of what she calls "dream logic."
Windling quotes Bjonerud as saying, "My aim is to create contemporary fairy tales that act as a medium through which we may consider our ethical obligations to the natural world and to each other. Retelling and reshaping stories helps us to understand how we are entangled, where we meet, and how our differences may be viewed as disguises of our sameness."
Before settling in to work on my fantasy novella this morning, I made the mistake of skimming the news. After that, I needed a better picture in my mind's eye, for sure, so I visited Terry Windling's Dartmoor Mythic Arts page, which, in turn, took me to Virginia Lee's home page and this mysterious landscape. I allowed myself to poke around at her website and found her illustrated edition of The Frog Bride by Antonia Barber, one of my favorite children's book authors. At Better World Books, I found a copy and ordered it. If you don't know that venue, its profits go to literacy programs, and it provides a carbon offset feature for shipping (at the grand cost of $0.04 in this case!). It's much more worth supporting than the behemoth Amazon. Sales of used books do not profit authors (don't I know!), but they do help circulate work on the budgets that so many of us book lovers can afford.
Serendipity in my blog crawling! The History Blog's Rare Brazilian feathered cloak restored, exhibited concerns a gorgeous orange-red cloak made of feathers while Honoring the Wild at Myth and Moor contains an image of a mysteriously evocative sculpture by Hib Sabin of a raven wearing just such a cloak. The detail of rarity hanging in a collection is from a 1666 catalogue of the Setalla Gallery of the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan. A spirit cloak, contemporary mythic sculpture, a 17thC cabinet of curiosities—so many hints and suggestions for metaphors and story lines. What would be your take?