Looking through my old books for my Fairy Tales post last month was an enjoyable, but somewhat eerie experience. I feel as though those books imprinted themselves on my brain on some deeply primordial level. The thoughts and ponderings I had in my head as a child are still there, just waiting for the right images to make them pop back up again.
Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne, “decorations” by Ernest H. Shepard, causes this phenomenon to happen. I found this copy at my parent’s house recently.
When I read this book now I hear voices. Well, not actually voices, just one voice – my mother’s – with the same intonation and cadence she used as she read the poems to me before I could read them myself. This is especially true with those that are my favorites, the ones that I must have made her read to me over and over again. For example, this one.
The answer to the question was deliciously obvious and thrilling to me. It echoed what I often heard.
Here is an image that I remember staring at and wondering about. It’s from “The Little Black Hen”.
…But I’ll lay you a beautiful
If you’ll show me the nettle-place
On your leg.”
So for years I thought nettles left pinfeather-like spines sticking out of your skin. Re-examining the picture now I think those lines are supposed to represent Christopher Robin’s fingers, but I still see them as an anomaly.
Tales From Grimm, illustrated by Wanda Gág, was part of my fairy tale collection. I was able to read by the time Mom brought this book home from a library discard sale.
Gág’s drawings are comfortingly lumpy and solid with the pleasing line textures common in illustrations from the 30s and 40s. They make me happy.
Years later I saw Gág’s Millions of Cats for the first time and it was like visiting with an old friend. Familiar face but different outfit.
As you can see, these books have been well loved over the years. The Golden Treasury of Children’s Literature, edited and selected by Bryna and Louis Untermeyer, was new when it came to me in 1967, a gift from my brother and his wife.
They wanted me to be a good girl too.
I’m afraid it has fared the worst of the three. It has been literally loved to pieces.
This book is a candy-shop sampler of so many masterful storytellers and illustrators. Over thirty authors including Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Forester , J. R. R. Tolkien , Lafcadio Hearn, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Louis Slobodkin and of course Milne, Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Aesop.
The illustrators include Gordon Laite (I studied these hairdos very, very closely. How did Cinderella manage them?).
Adrienne Ségur made Thumbelina’s environment exquisite but terrifying.
W. W. Denslow, the original illustrator for Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of OZ.
Charles Harper’s Bambi. Geometric and precise.
The Provensens’s illustrations for Aesop’s fables. They make it look easy.
As well as Robert J. Lee, Lilian Obligado, Tanako Tanabe, Eloise Wilken, Jean Winslow and others.
All of these books have influenced the images I create today, even if I don’t consciously think about them doing so. The graphic quality, the stylization. It’s all in there.