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.
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!
A review by Kate Macdonald sent me to my interlibrary loan catalogue and, sure enough, I could borrow Comet Weather by Liz Williams. So I did. I loved it and went back to search for its sequel, Blackthorn Winter. No go. I'd have to buy it. Hmm. There were two more titles in the Fallow Sisters series— I took a chance and bought all four. Am I ever glad!
It's the glasses. Dark glasses, no less! The medieval iconography of Moses with horns is goofy enough, but these spectacles are irresistible. The question is, What to do with the picture besides use it to expound an oddity in art history? Maybe let it provide a model for some imaginary wizard? I like the idea of substituting a goat's face for the man's.
Incidentally, the Hagenau Bible, from which the picture comes, also illustrates a moment in publishing history, the move into mass-produced books through a rationalized system within scriptoria. Might the head scribe of a magical scriptorium be a demon?
Blog post alert: Kathleen Jennings, one of my favorite working illustrators, has a terrific post on Art process — designing "the Fairest" for Owen King's The Curator. You can see her progression from first sketches, through the development of concepts, and examples of her use of silhouettes. Owen King is new to me. Thanks to Jennings, I'm giving him a try. As for the jacket design, that belongs to Jaya Miceli—give more of her work a look-see here.
I'm reading Isabella Tree and Charles Burrell's Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding, Big and Small. So should everyone who wants to help save life on the planet. What I'm going to write about here, though, is my delight in learning that beavers were a mighty force in shaping British and European landscapes before they were hunted to near extinction. How wonderful for those of us who build imaginary worlds!
My copy of Little, Big (to which I subscribed in 2008!) arrived last week; and, oh, yes, it was worth the wait. The interplay of John Crowley's text and Peter Milton's art is just what they hoped: the illustrations are independent of the text and yet they illuminate. In fact, earlier this week, I woke up and saw out my window a Peter Milton landscape. My bedroom window looks up a field to a row of white pine trees. In the gray light of early morning, light snow had fallen and the scene might as well have been one of his etchings. When a book makes you see through its eyes, well, what could be better?
My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.