Thursday, January 23, 2014
Merry Olde England, Illustrated
St. George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, illustrated by my hero, Trina Schart Hyman. Little, Brown and Company, 1984. As you can see from these photos, Trina Schart Hyman is a master illustrator. We had this book when I was a kid, and ever since then, these are the kinds of illustrations that I have wanted to do. The way she handles landscapes, light, detail, and her characters' forms and faces is just amazing. This is perhaps my favorite page of the book. It is so exciting! Can't you just feel the warmth that is still rising from the ground as the day closes, and the cold breeze that is snapping the banners and making the standing wheat sway? Don't you just love the drawings of the hills, the peasants, the children? And what's that over there ... a bank of clouds blowing in for the night? ... That's what I took it to be, for years. But perhaps it is ... smoke from the dragon! "The dreadful dragon lay stretched on the sunny side of a great hill, like a great hill himself, and when he saw the knight's armor glistening in the sunlight, he came eagerly to do battle." This amazing picture is accompanied by a solid paragraph of description of the dragon. In a modern book, we would consider it over-written, but bear in mind that this story would have been told without any pictures or film. The teller had to create a picture in his hearers' minds. The kids will sit patiently through the old-fashioned prose, because they have such an amazing illustration to look at meanwhile. And while they sit, their ears will be bathed in phrases that bear the features of old Anglo-Saxon poetry: strong rhythm, assonance, and pairs and even triplets of alliterating words. "In his tail's end, two sharp stings were fixed. But sharper still were his cruel claws. Whatever he touched or drew within those claws was in deadly danger. His head was more hideous than tongue can tell ... He snatched the spear in his claws and broke it off, throwing forth flames of fire from his nostrils. He hurled his hideous tail about ..." If experience is any guide, little girls will sigh at this picture. Una looks all of eighteen; George, twenty. They got started young back then. Look at the red braid on the king, and the carved Celtic face on his chair. That's why this is one of my favorite books.