Monday, July 23, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jean-Leon Huens (1921-1982)

Jean-Leon Huens (sometimes abbreviated as Jean Huens) was a Belgian-born artist who did work both in Europe and the United States. He produced many paintings for National Geographic and Reader's Digest, book covers for Dell, and illustrations for Christmas cards, comic book covers, and children's books. He was poised to be a major contributor to Time/Life Books Enchanted World, but passed away after completing only one picture for them. Howard E. Paine, the former Art Director for National Geographic, had this to say about Huens when the artist was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2002:
Huens has been a constant if unnamed presence in my life and reading since I was very little, and I am glad to recognize and acknowledge him now.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Mappa" Monday

"[T]hey pondered the storied and figured maps..."--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

"We must emphasize that no [Fantasyland] Tour is complete without a Map. Further, you must not expect to be let off from visiting every damn place shown on it."--Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

"Oh, I do love maps! I have quite a collection."--Bilbo Baggins, in the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit.

Mappa mundi is the term given to the European world maps of the Middle Ages; these were often largely conceptual affairs showing Jerusalem as the center of the world with the distant margins peopled with fanciful creatures like monopods or cynocephali. It has often been an impulse (especially post-Tolkien) for imaginative writers to "give to airy nothings a local habitation and a name;" it lends verisimilitude and can keep the reader oriented in a spiritual space.

I personally love a "figured" map, that shows tiny pictures of places rather than simply dots, lines, and names. You can walk places like that in your head with ease. I have the map-drawing urge myself; I can hardly count the times I've re-drawn Thror's Map from The Hobbit. I paid the enormous sum (for me at the time) of three dollars for the National Geographic map of Shakespeare's Britain when I was in middle school. This and Tolkien's maps influenced my own efforts producing maps of fantasy worlds for a long time, and they include every darn detail from little molehill mountains to feathery trees to hairy ground labelled "marshes" that Diana Wynne Jones skewers so lovingly in The Tough Guide.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reader's Digest Great Stories For Young Readers (1969)

On May 18 of last year I wrote a post about my search for a book that I had read way back in the early Seventies, when I was about nine or ten. I knew I had read it at the house of one of my aunts. I had a pretty strong memory that it was from Reader's Digest (she had a ton of Reader's Digest books; I think she belonged to some club). I remembered some of the stories I had read in it, especially some with illustrations that had made an impression on me. I put down every detail I could remember about it, and asked for any help that anyone who saw the post could give. I got no replies, which isn't very surprising (my readership isn't very broad, though I like to think it's choice), but I kept searching periodically, and hoping.

Finally last week my Googling brought up a listing from a library that looked very promising; it showed the contents of a book that matched in every way my memory of that long-ago volume. This was the Reader's Digest Great Stories For Young Readers. A quick check on Amazon found a copy offered as "Good" (for $1.78!), and it wasn't long before I had ordered it and it was on it's way. I wasn't absolutely sure it was the right book until I actually opened the box yesterday, flipped through the pages, and saw the well-remembered pictures of forty years ago.

The book contains many childhood favorites of old. Stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Till Eulenspiegel, Anansi, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Johnny Appleseed, as well as Hindu, Finnish, Dutch, and old Greek legends are here. Excerpts from Mr. Popper's Penguins, Ben and Me, Rabbit Hill, and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang are included. Authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oscar Wilde, Carl Sandburg, Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Asimov, A. A. Milne, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and James Thurber are represented. There are many illustrations by one of my personal favorite artists, Darrelll K. Sweet. All in all there are seventy stories, but I would like to describe the four that really stuck with me down the years.

Ichabod Paddock, by Josef Berger (Jeremiah Digges), with an illustration by Charles Gehm. A re-telling of the folk-tale about a New England whaler and his adventures with a mermaid/witch in the belly of a whale. I must admit that although I had remembered the composition of the picture I had forgotten the style, which is that sort of Sixties macabre with purple, blue, and orange.

Three Young Men and Death, by Geoffrey Chaucer, retold by Jennifer Winwood, with an illustration by Jean-Leon Huens. Three drunken youths decide to find Death and kill him. An old man tells them he saw Death down the road under a tree; when they get there they find a golden treasure. They quickly forget their plan, but greed ensures that all three do indeed find Death. I remember thinking at the time that the one with the long chin looked like Dick Van Dyke.

O'Halloran's Luck, by Stephen Vincent Benet, with an illustration by John Falter. Another of Benet's American fantasies, about an Irish railroad man who disguises a leprechaun as his nephew so that both can fulfill their destinies. I didn't remember this story, although I remembered the picture, but had forgotten it belonged to this book. The peculiar image of shaving a leprechaun in the wild at night tends to stick with you.

The Devil's Hide, a Finnish folk-tale retold by Parker Fillmore, with another illustration by Jean-Leon Huens. Erkki makes a deal with the Devil to work for him until one of them loses their temper; then the winner gets enough of the other's hide to sole a pair of boots. The Devil is crafty, but Erkki shows that he really knows how to irk. It was hard getting a scan of the picture because it spanned two pages, but I wanted to show that crazy cat in all his glory.

And so another childhood memory is found and nailed down. It was curious to see what had stayed and what had slipped around in my mind: the firm general impressions, and the twitchy, flitting details. There are apparently other editions of Great Stories For Young Readers for different years, but it was this one that was the particular bottle for my time, the one that I can open and enjoy the taste and fragrance of a long-past era.