Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Green Fairy Book isn't a comic book,

but it has both words and pictures in it, so I'm going to go ahead and blog about it here anyway.

Above is an illustration by H.J. Ford from Andrew Lang's 1892 The Green Fairy Book. The story it illustrates is "The Crystal Coffin," which Lang collected from Grimm's collections of fairy tales.

I love Lang's collections and, especially, Ford's illustrations for them, which I'll return to again and again while reading just to stare at and study. This one really gave me pause for an entirely different reason though.

Most of Ford's illustrations, like most illustrations for prose stories, capture a single moment in a story (with a few exceptions, in which smaller pictures are worked into the borders of a larger illustration, as in the image from "Jack My Hedgehog," which you can see below). In this particular image, above though, Ford tries to capture three distinct actions from three distinct moments in a single image.

In a comic book, this would be an exceptionally poor panel, which doesn't really work the way a panel in a comic book should, but then, this isn't a comic book, so it doesn't have to to play by the rules—but this particular illustration is a good, um, illustration of the way imagery works differently in comics versus prose.

The scene depicted is an illustration of the following, told by the princess, who is sitting atop the horse in the image:
...ere long I saw the stranger coming towards me, and leading a fine stag. I asked him where he had left my brother, and how he had got the stag, whose great eyes were overflowing with tears. Instead of answering he began to laugh, and I flew into such a rage that I drew the pistol and fired at him; but the bullet rebounded from his breast and struck my horse in the forehead.
Click on the image and look closely and you'll see a little dotted line from the cloud of smoke at the barrel of the gun, showing the trajectory of the bullet as it bounces off the stranger and enters her horse's forehead.


Let's look at some more of Ford's illustrations now, shall we?

Above are the three little pigs, from the version of "The Three Little Pigs" collected in here. Also, their mom, whom the little black pig is using as some sort of book-holder.

This was one of my least favorite of the stories collected herein, familiarity breeding contempt, I guess (that, or I'm not that big a fan of the all-animal stories). I was awfully surprised by the contents of the story though, as its details are so different from the ones one usually associates with the story.

These little pigs all have names—Browny, Whitey and Blacky. Their elderly mother builds them each their own houses, out of whatever material they want. Instead of straw, wood and brick, these little pigs have houses out of mud, cabbage and brick. The predator that tries to eat them isn't a big, bad wolf, but a fox. And he doesn't blow their houses down, he simply digs into the mud house and eats his way into the cabbage house, but is stymied by the brick house—and ultimately opts for a chimney entrance and dies in the normal boiled alive in a pot manner.


The little fellow sitting atop the rooster, an oddly anthropomorphic-looking set of bagpipes behind him, is Jack my Hedgehog, a half-man, half-hedgehog born of his childless father exclaiming, "I must and will have a child of some sort or kind, even should it only be a hedgehog!" I'm sure this Grimm-collected fairy tale, and Ford's illustrations for it, aren't actually the inspiration for Sonic The Hedgehog, but I like to imagine it is.

But enough talk of these stories that aren't even comics. Let's just look at some nice pictures, shall we?

Men with the moon for their heads is another broad category of types of images I think are really cool for some reason. This man with a moon's head is actually supposed to be the moon. It's from the story "The Snuff-Box," in which the hero visits the land of the moon, where the moon's mother informs him that her son "eats all living things he sees." Our hero survives the encounter, however, and goes on to be similarly menaced by the sun and the wind, neither of which get illustrated.

When I first saw this illustration of "Fair Gifts," in which the Flower Fairy sends her charge Sylvia out in a chariot drawn by butterflies, I thought, There's no way even that many butterflies of that size would be able to pull that heavy chariot and that girl, because I am dumb, trying to assign my understanding of physics to a story involving a magical fairy and her magic butterfly chariot.

I really like this image from "Rosanella," in which giant bees carry off twelve princess from a garden party.

The Golden Mermaid, from the story "The Golden Mermaid," was the hottest woman in this book, I think, but she's no Snow-Daughter or Thumbelina, though.


SallyP said...

These are really beautiful illustrations.

Phillip said...

Man I love those Andrew Lang books.