A few years ago, I borrowed a library copy of The Hobbit illustrated by Alan Lee. On the back of the jacket was an illustration of Bilbo joining the dwarves in front of the Green Dragon pub which was not included inside. Oh, well, I decided to spring for a second-hand copy just for the pictures and ordered on line what I thought was the right edition. When it arrived, lo and behold, its jacket was different. No Green Dragon. Phooey. To my amusement, when I searched for the illustration this summer, it turned up at a website with exactly my story of disappointment about the Green Dragon jacket illustration. That set me thinking about the difference between fan fiction and fan illustration.
Picturing a World
Blog post alert: Henry Mayhew's Street Traders reproduces a few of the engravings in London Labour and the London Poor of men and women who made a living on the streets in the Victorian era and quotes the text that accompanies each. The passage that accompanies this picture, for instance, begins, "I am a seller of birds'-nesties, snakes, slow-worms, adders, "effets"–lizards is their common name–hedgehogs (for killing black beetles), frogs (for the French – they eats 'em), and snails (for birds) – that's all I sell in the Summertime."
A post by James Gurney on Painting Fantasy on Location immediately brought to mind Kathleen Jennings' Floating Islands. I've also just finished rereading A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones in which a pocket world the size of a giant fortress orbits a planet in its own universe while being connected by magic to its counterpart in another. And then there's Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Petit Prince, surely the most delicious story and artwork ever set on an asteroid. In short, the whole idea of tiny floating worlds has set me thinking about how to approach a story set on one.
Blog post alert: A post by artist Andrea McLean on Los's Light and the Swedenborg Window struck me forcibly. William Blake figures into Liz Williams' Fallow Sisters novels, and she has one of her heroines seen into a magical otherworld through a bubble in a glass window pane. Magical panes also figure into one of my favorite children's books, Diana Wynne Jones's Enchanted Glass. Concentric circles, moreover, are readily recognizable as diagrams of the cosmos. A lantern, the sun, the cosmos, all three—why not? It's how a poet thinks.
For a zoomable high-rez version of the image (well worth viewing), click here.
Is this a delicious scene, or what? The high life, for sure—including that androgynous figure on the right in spats with a lady's at his/her feet. I can imagine the picture's sparking any number of stories set in a park or one about the discovery of a talented relative's forgotten watercolor in an attic. The artist Thea Proctor is a certainly a discovery for me. (I love it that she painted fans.) I keep thinking, moreover, that the Australian art scene as a whole bears investigating. Learning Resources: Australian Impressionism would be a good place to start! And for more about Proctor, click here.
Blog post alert: 19C American Women and Labor Day by garden historian and blogger Barbara Wells Sarudy summarizes the evolution of Labor Day as a holiday and women's struggles within the union movement. Her first illustration, Norman Rockwell's 1943 Rosie the Riveter, is surely the most iconic female worker in modern history. Remember, the worker is worthy of HER pay. Happy Labor Day.
Art historian Christine Guth has alerted me to the time Lilla Cabot Perry spent in Japan, beginning in 1897. Perry, whose style was much influenced by Claude Monet's Impressionism painted as many as thirty-five pictures of Mount Fuji, but this intimate, domestic scene of a woman showing a picture book to two little girls seems to me more likely to inspire a story.
It's interesting that the child in the middle stares out as if at a camera. That might suggest an awareness of a fourth person in the room. Perry? a narrator? another character? Turn it around: what might the painting suggest about a Western artist in Japan at the turn of the 20th C?
Website alert: I think I have posted a link to the digitized Panorama of the Thames before, but it seems worth doing again for anyone who needs a soothing video trip down the Thames River in 1829. You can go upstream or down between Richmond and Westminster. Perfect escape from the news two centuries later and a great resource for historical fiction.
An article, Ukrainian Painters: The Modern, led me to Oleksandra Ekster, whose participation in the Modernist movement at the beginning of the 20th C is clear in her works. She either reflected or helped shape a number of avant-garde styles. A summary of her career, found at the National Art Museum of Ukraine in Kyiv, points out that she "educated a whole generation of the theatrical design innovators …who contributed to the development of Ukrainian theatre in the 1920s." And it is the theatricality of this Carnival in Venice that strikes me, both in the flatness of background buildings and the Commedia dell'arte costumes.
It's always a delight when a writer in a well-ploughed field comes up with an inventive twist. I think that's what happened when Liz Williams introduced her wose character, Hob, in Blackthorn Winter. Once upon a time Hob was human, but he has been transformed into an animated figure made of sticks and is being chased by otherworldly dogs. He reminds me of Charles Vess's illustrations of Charles de Lint's Apple Tree Man as well as corn dollies, the infamous Wicker Man, and, of course, woodwoses. Yet as far as I can tell, he is Williams' own contribution to the world of the folkloric imagination. If anyone knows of another analogue or origin, please leave a comment. Meanwhile, brava, Liz Williams!