On My Bookshelf…Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

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?'”

On My Bookshelf…The Peacock Party

Last week in the first of this series, and as part of my self-declared Bug Week, I shared with you Alan Aldridge’s illustrated The Butterfly Ball. Gorgeous, wasn’t it?

Well, the treats just don’t stop. People, here’s THE SEQUEL:

Inside cover illustrations

In this book, the feathered inhabitants of this charming world decide that anything those bugs can do, birds can do better. This volume was published in 1979 based on anonymous sequels to Roscoe’s version, illustrated in collaboration with Harry Wilcock, and with verses by George E. Ryder…and OMG I’ve just found out there is a THIRD one – The Lion’s Cavalcade! *taps away on Amazon…Sold!*

Sir Perceval Peacock Proposes A Party
Oswald Ostrich, R.A.
The Raven however was far from delighted; He cursed at the party; he wasn’t invited.

It is equally as charming.  No field notes on bird identification this time, but no less adorable. I could literally recite each poem here, they are all so delightful. This is one of my faves:

Before the world found shape or rhyme,

Before the pendulum measured time,

You were spawned by a murky spell,

You bedmate of demons and powers of hell!

Haunter of the gallows tree,

Raven, what mysteries do you see?

What hellish schemes do you devise?

What evil brews in your cruel, coal eyes?

Busy in your time-worn tower,

You spin your black charms hour by hour:

“Take sulphur’s fumous air,

Mercury, potassium mix with care,

Charge this broth to gentle fire,

Add bat fur, cobweb – stir this mire.

Then your evil wish behold:

The ruddy hues of magic gold!”

The Story Of The Mighty Parrot, Shel-Em-Nazam

‘Many stories have been told

Of tyrants, despots, villains bold.

Worst was the parrot, Shel-em-Nazam,

Spawned by a she-devil, sired by a ram.’

Madame Bella Donna

Again, the page of Madame Swanna is scored with my childhood tracing.

The Peacock Party

Finally, we are treated to a double page pull out of the triumphant Party:

The Peacock Party (detail)
The Peacock Party (detail)

You can see more of Aldridge’s work here.

Can you think of a better title for this weekly post?*

Can you think of a better title for this weekly post?*

This is the first of a weekly post I will be doing each Tuesday.

So much of our lives can be spent virtually – online, in the digital ether. But so much of what I do and what I love have the seeds of inspiration within the treasured books on my inspiration-bookshelf. You know, that part of your book collection you can always go to to fill your soul up with beauty and creativity and fantasy.

Now, I’m not that big of a reader – these days if I am actually reading a book it will be non-fiction; how to stitch this and that, or self improvement or whatevs. But I do love a story picture-book. I’ve done a good job of keeping my faves with me for many years. So here I will share with you some of my most adored books, that I have had since I was a little child.

Let’s begin.

I have been known to peak early in some events (birthday surprises being one area that springs to mind), and this first book I am showing you is pretty spectacular. Get ready.

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast by Alan Aldridge (illustrations) and William Plomer (verse). First published in 1973 by Jonathan Cape Ltd. Based on William Roscoe’s 1807 poem, but was inspired when Aldridge read that John Tenniel had told Lewis Carroll it was impossible to draw a wasp in a wig.

Harold The Herald
Old Blind Mole
Harlequin Hare

It is the story, in verse, of all the insects and animals invited to the annual Butterfly Ball and Grasshopper’s Feast. Each verse has Aldridge’s fabulous full colour plate accompanying it.

Esmeralda, Seraphina and Camilla
Major Nathaniel Gnat

I was OBSESSED with this book when I was little. Never that fussed about the words (although now I realise what a philistine I was because they are quite the most charming thing ever), but I can still now see the marks in the pages where I tried over and over to trace the gorgeous pictures, desperate as I was to create something so beautiful.

Magician Moth
Miss Money Spider

Each plate is so super saturated with 70s colour, so detailed, they have a richness to them that is stunning. Aldridge nicknamed himself The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eyes after the song by The Beatles, and was the artist behind much of their artwork and for Apple Corps. (as in records not ipod) in the late 60s.

Each little character is so perfectly detailed, to an insane level. This spider’s hairbrush, for example even has a teeny little illustrated back to it, of some kind of insect shepherd, I deduce.

The Long Eared Bat

There is a darkness too here, a sinister angle to some of the creatures which I love. These are real Bats and Foxes and Hornets, and they do eat things, even with nice velvet frock coats on. Toward the back of the book, there are even field notes about each of the creatures featured, written in a lovely familiar prose.

When we finally get to the feast, again you can see the 60s psychedelia Aldridge was fluent in, with an optical illusion lent by the magic mushrooms in this plate. And this isn’t just any ball, it is a masked ball, and the little insects with animal masks on, and mini harlequin outfits is just too amazing.

The Grasshopper’s Feast

‘Now the great big Moon is sinking

And goodbyes are said,

Darkness spreads, and some are thining,

“Who will light us home to bed?”

Switching on his greenish light,

Glow-worm’s heard to say

(He’s so helpful and polite),

“Let me put you on your way.

“With my light I’ll guide you all,

Homeward, like a friend,

While you’re sleeping, Feast and Ball

In your dreams will never end.”‘

Mrs Babcary’s Diving Machine

Mrs Babcary’s Diving Machine

Sometimes you get a little glimpse back into your childhood and rediscover something that makes you understand your grown-up self a bit more. This made me very happy.

I used to love this book, and this page was my FAVE. You can even see the lines around the shark where I tried to trace round it. I remember I didn’t really care about the story even all that much because I was so captivated by this picture. But the story is rather wonderful. And you know how I feel about Octopi:

“Down and down, deeper and deeper, went Captain and Mrs Babcary, into a wonderful green world of waving seaweed and wandering shoals of fish.

And there on the sea-bed was a glint of gold, a flash of jewels!

‘Treasure!’ cried the Captain. ‘Golden nobles and pieces of eight! We’re rich, we’re rich!’

They were so excited that they did not see a large, round and very angry eye gazing at them furiously.”

“It was an octopus, a huge octopus with terrible, thrashing tentacles that twisted and twined round the diving-machine.

‘I am the Guardian of the Treasure!’ roared the octopus. ‘The treasure belongs to the sea and the sea shall keep it.'”

It all gets a bit dark and scary for a children’s book. But all the best ones are, in my opinion.

At risk of giving the end away (I have no idea if this book is still in print or not), what is so especially lovely about this story is the last page. The Captain grumbles that they lost the treasure, but Mrs Babcary says:

“‘We are rich. We have a beautiful cello to live in and a beautiful boat to sail in. We have the wind and the sun and the countryside and hundreds and hundreds of friends.'”