On My Bookshelf…Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Illustrated by Arthur Rackham, to be specific.

I am clever enough to have joined the Folio Society one year many moons ago. I can’t remember if it was specifically to get my set of 4 classic children’s illustrated tomes, but I did and it is a treat.

Arthur Rackham was born in London in 1867 as one of 12 children. Rackham invented his own unique technique which resembled photographic reproduction; he would first sketch an outline of his drawing, then lightly block in shapes and details. Afterwards he would add lines in pen and India ink, removing the pencil traces after it had dried. With colour pictures, he would then apply multiple washes of colour until transparent tints were created. He would also go on to expand the use of silhouette cuts in illustration work [wikipedia tells us].

From ‘Hans in Luck’ – “By day, she made herself into a cat”
From ‘The Straw, The Coal, and The Bean’

The first English edition of German Popular Stories as it was then known, was published in 1823 and illustrated by George Cruikshank (whom I also love). The text of this edition is taken from the revised edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Rackham and published in 1909.

From ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’ – “At the third sting the fox screamed and down went his tail between his legs’

When I was at University I did a dissertation on Victorian Fairy painting, and drew many parallels between the grimness of Industrial Revolution era England and the escapism these paintings (as well as copious amounts of Laudanum) provided with their fantastical subjects and lyrical content. But with Rackham’s style of illustration I always feel they have a grubbiness to them – a spidery, coal-smudged quality that seems very appropriate for the time.

From Rumpelstiltskin – “Around the fire an indescribably ridiculous little man was leaping, hopping on one leg and singing’
From ‘The Four Clever Brothers’ – “The King’s only daughter had been carried off by a dragon”

These are not the Disney-fied sugar coated fairy tales with guaranteed happy endings. Old Grannies are wizened and gnarly; Dwarves and witches conspire to catch and eat you, and often succeed, or else die a grizly death. Animals speak, but you might not like what they say.

From ‘The Lady and the Lion’ – “She went away accompanied by the lions”
From ‘The Marriage of Mrs Reynard’ – “But they said one after another: ‘Halloa! Who’s been eating off my plate? Who’s been drinking out of my cup?'”

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