I honestly don't remember why I set this image aside for a blog post. True, a 1905 retelling of a Shakespearean story fits into the time frame for Mattie in my work-in-progress to have seen it, and Helen Stratton is one of those forgotten female artists it's fun to rediscover. What strikes me today, though, is the figure of Caliban. When you've just read Kindred, he would!
Picturing a World
Just as appealing as Miereke Nelissen's animals are her illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—or more precisely for De tovenaar van Oz. Lisabeth Zwerger's version may have influenced Nelissen. Certainly Zwerger made clear that a modern sensibility can work wonders divorced from more traditional variations on W. W. Denslow's first-edition illustrations (see, for example, those of Scott Gustafson and Michael Hague and 25 more).
My bedtime reading this week is Peter Dickinson's lively YA historical novel, The Dancing Bear. I first read it as a library book and then was lucky enough to come across a secondhand copy with its dust jacket by David Smee intact. I read it every few years, and this time around it seems as good as ever.
For the first time, though, I got to wondering about David Smee. I can't find much about him on the internet, although a Summary Bibliography of his works has images of many dust jackets and interior illustrations, including the jackets he created for Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books. I can see how those covers would seem definitive to the readers who were introduced to Earthsea by them.
Website alert: I happen to be rereading Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones at bedtime. Its heroine, Sophie Hatter, works in her stepmother's millinery shop. Okay, so today something prompted me to check to see whether Jim Kay is working on illustrations for another Harry Potter book. He is, The Order of the Phoenix, as I discovered at the website he shares with his wife Louise Clark. Who, yes! is a hatter. Go take a look her Millinery page if you love hats; they're all as delicious as this one (which is perfect for a Sophie Hatter creation). And if you are curious about Diana Wynne Jones, a Tor essay on where to start reading her books is a good overview.
Blog post alert: I'm a sucker for scale models, stuffed animals, and children's books. Imagine my delight in finding I Made Needle Felted Badger from "The Wind in the Willows." Perfect coziness, and perhaps inspiration for a hand craft or a story. A soothing way to end a week of impeachment, COVID-19, and winter weather, for sure!
Yesterday, I attended an absorbing webinar on Boston artist Sarah Gooll Putnam. Every aspect of the topic interested me (see below), and I hope it will be posted to YouTube as planned. For this blog, it introduces one more excellent, little-known woman artist. Putnam was a successful portraitist in Boston elite circles, painting in a style reminiscent of John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux.
An even bigger Wow! for the historical novelist are her voluminous diaries now digitized at the Massachusetts Historical Society. In them, she recorded daily events, illustrated her entries with drawings, and supplemented them with clippings and other memorabilia. If you have a hankering to undertake a story set in Boston in the latter quarter of the 19th C or early 20th, don't miss these.
On my walk yesterday, I talked with a friend—outdoors at six feet apart—who is planning to celebrate Christmas next July when her family can gather safely. Then this morning while I was mulling blog topics, I happened across Miss Jasper's Garden illustrated by one of my artists, N. M. Bodecker. Perfect. In this time of pandemic, why not a momentary break to July at Christmas?
Pauline Baynes's illustrations for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, sank almost as deep into my imagination as C. S. Lewis's story did—and that's saying a lot! Yet somehow, I never quite liked her Father Christmas with the beavers. So what about this illustration to advertise Huntley & Palmer biscuits? Oh, my yes! How I wish I had a biscuit tin with it on top! NB: I don't think it suggests a story, only a delicious side of commercial Christmas. What do you say? In any case, Happy St. Nicholas Day!
Yesterday, my copy of this British 25th Anniversary edition of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights arrived, with Chris Wormell's stunning illustrations. The landscapes are breathtaking, especially those of icy mountains and the aurora borealis.
As it happened, I've been reading Peter Davidson's wide-ranging Idea of North, a study of how the concept of "north" has figured into art, culture, folklore, etc. Last night, I came across a passage about how certain magnetized stones retain their orientation in spite of geological shifts. Davidson remarks on "this fundamental marvel of the earth itself having an idea of north, a northern memory" (p. 56). The idea of intelligence as information rather than consciousness is certainly coming into focus these days, including in the observation of how plants respond without a centralized brain. But think of it, the mineral world with memory, too!
For my library book club, I am reading Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy, which is set in a near future when mass extinctions have wiped out almost all wildlife. What I'd love to see is a speculative fiction that embodies the life—the activity, and change, and slow responses—of the inorganic as well as organic world in sentient characters. We need to feel within us the tides and flow of the more-than-human world. A fantasy might be devised so that such awareness is part of everyone's experience, or a special set of a population; or it could be that in a more conventional realistic story there is at least one character grappling with the implications of just what non-human, non-animal intelligence entails.
So as a jumping off point (a là Natasha Pulley)—if it were true that people could slow their rhythms down to the sound waves sent by elephants through the ground or perceive with their own senses the changes wrought by water on a cliff, what else would have to be true? What would follow?
NB: The 25th anniversary illustrated edition of Northern Lights will be published in America in May 2021 under the title The Golden Compass.