Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Some Margot Tomes illustrations for Wanda Gág's tales from Grimm

When I was actively seeking out the work of Wanda Gág, I found a pair of interesting, sort-of posthumous collaborations between the writer/artist and Margot Tomes, who illustrated around 60 books, including James Still's Jack and the Wonder Beans, Barbara Lalicki's If There Were Dreams to Sell and Jean Fritz's Newberry-winning Homesick: My Own Story.

These were The Earth Gnome (Coward, McCann and Geoghean Inc.; 1979) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1985), little, child-sized, four-and-a-half-inch by six-inch hardcovers containing Gág's translations of the Grimm versions of these classic stories (previously discussed here).

I was originally a little perplexed by their existence, as it seemed unusual that a publisher would take a specific translation from a particular writer/artist who went about the project in part to provide her own illustrations to the stories, only to subtract those illustrations and replace them with all new ones but I soon appreciated the opportunity these books gave to compare and contrast the way to gifted illustrators might approach the exact same subject matter.

I looked through the Tomas books for instances of her drawing the exact same story moment that Gág had drawn. I'll present them below, but, as these two stories aren't as widely-known as, say, the Grimm versions of Rapunzel or Hansel and Gretel, I suppose summaries of them might be in order.

In the story of the Earth Gnome, there is a king with a magnificent orchard and three beautiful daughters. Everyone—even the princesses—are forbidden from eating the apples from the king's prized tree, which is cursed with a spell. Whoever eats one of the apples sinks far below the earth.

Naturally, the girls do this one day, and find themselves in a prison, each forced to comb their hair of a many-headed dragon. The king offers the hands of his daughters in marriage to any brave young man who can return them, and the youngest of three brothers happens upon a gnome, whom he bests. Once defeated by the youngest brother, the gnome advises him how to find and rescue the princesses, and he does so—despite the trickery of his older brothers.

In the story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, a young man feigns illiteracy in order to meet the qualifications of an older man looking for an apprentice. The older man turns out to be a sorcerer, and a wicked one at that. The boy secretly studied his master's magical tomes at night, growing more and more learned in magic, until one day he's caught in the act. The sorcerer acts quickly to destroy the boy, but the boy had learned enough magic at this point to engage in the traditional wizard's battle of turning-into-different-things, and ultimately triumphs by turning into a rooster and gobbling up the sorcerer after the latter had become a kernel of corn.

The apprentice then takes over the magic practice, "And wasn't it fine that all the powers and ingredients which had been used for evil by the sorcerer were now in the hands of a boy who would use them only for the good of man and beast?"

Here is Gág's illustration of the three princesses from the story of the Earth Gnome being swallowed up by the earth, followed by Tomas' illustration of the same:

And here is Gág's illustration of one of the princesses combing the hair of a three-headed dragon, followed by Tomas' image of the same thing:
Finally, here is the image with which Gág ends her story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, followed by the one that Tomas ends her version with:
Tomes also illustrated Gág's versions of Jorinda and Joringel and The Six Swans. She also illustrated versions of The Fisherman's Wife and Hansel and Gretel, but not Gág's translations of those stories.

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