Previous month:
December 2014
Next month:
February 2015

January 2015

Dreaming awake

Udo Weigelt's The Legendary Unicorn illustrated by Julia Gukova

"I write fantasy because it's there. I have no other excuse for sitting down for several hours a day indulging my imagination. Daydreaming. Thinking up imaginary people, impossible places. Imagination is the golden-eyed monster that never sleeps. It must be fed; it cannot be ignored. Making it tell the same tale over Brigitte Schar's The Blind Fairy illustrated by Julia Gukovaagain makes it thin and whining; its scales begin to fall off; its fiery breath becomes a trickle of smoke. It is best fed by reality, an odd diet for something nonexistant; there are few details of daily life and its broad range of emotional context that can't transformed into food for the imagination. It must be visited constantly, or else it begins to become restless and emit strange bellows at embarrassing moments; ignoring it only makes it grown larger and noisier. Content, it dreams awake, and spins the fabric of tales. There is really nothing to be done with such imagery except to use it: in writing, in art. Those who fear the imagination condemn it: something childish, they say, something monsterish, misbegotten. Not all of us dream awake. But those who do have no choice."  - Patricia A. McKillip

Russian Symphony by Julia Gukova

Insectia: Symmetry by Julia Gukova

"I'm inspired by dreams and shadows, obsession and desire. By nature, I'm a dream collector and never stop working. I question people about their weirdest dreams and the strangest, most inexplicable experiences they've had. All this information whirls around in my mind, and new dreams emerge that form the seeds of stories and novels."  - Storm Constantine

Brigitte Schar's The Blind Fairy illustrated by Julia Gukova

"To be entranced, to be driven, to be obsessed, to be under the spell of an emerging, not quite fully 'comprehended' narrative -- this is the greatest happiness of the writer's life even as it burns us out and exhausts us, unfitting us for the placid contours of 'normality.' " - Joyce Carol Oates

Brigitte Schar's The Blind Fairy illustrated by Julia Gukova

The dream-like imagery today is by Julia Gukova, a Russian painter and illustrator based in Moscow. She studied at the Krasnopresnenskaya Visual Arts School and Moscow State University of Printing Arts, and has worked as a painter and graphic designer since the late 1980s. Gukova has illustrated over forty books for publishers in Russia and abroad, including Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Mole's Daughter, The Blind Fairy, Peter and the Wolf,  and The Legendary Unicorn.

Insectia: Asymmetry by Julia Gukova

Sweet dreams, everyone. See you Monday.

Udo Weigelt's The Legendary Unicorn illustrated by Julia Gukova

Waking the music

The Tales of Foggy Albion illustrated by Vladislav Erko

The fairy tales of George MacDonald have been read and loved for over one hundred years. In his influential essay "The Fantastic Imagination," first published in 1893, MacDonald posed and answered a series of questions exploring the nature of his chosen literary form. The questions are distinctly Victorian ones...and yet some critics of children's fantasy are still asking them to this day.

"You write as if a fairy tale were a thing of importance: must it have a meaning?

"It cannot help have some meaning; if it have propotion and harmony it has vitality, and vitality is truth. The beauty may be plainer in it than truth, but without the truth the beauty could not be, and the fairy tale would give no delight. Everyone, however, who feels the story, will read its meaning after his own nature and development: one man will read one meaning in it, and another will read another.

"If so, how am I to assure myself that I am not reading my own meaning it to it, but yours out of it?

"Why should you be so assured? It may be better that you should read your meaning into it. That may be a higher operation of your intellect than the mere reading of mine out of it: your meaning may be superior to mine.

The Tales of Foggy Albion  illustrated by Vladislav Erko

"Suppose my child asks me what the fairy tale means, what am I to say?

"If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince illustrated by Vladislav Erkoyou to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it mean that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it does not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

"But indeed your children are not likely to trouble you about the meaning. They find what they are capable of finding, and more would be too much. For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five."

Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen illustrated by Vladislav Erko

The Snow Queen by Vladislav Erko

"But surely you would explain your idea to one who asked you?

"I say again, if I cannot draw a horse, I will not write THIS IS A HORSE under what I foolishly meant for one. Any key to a work of imagination would be nearly, if not quite, as absurd. The tale is there, not to hide, but to The Snow Queen illustrated by Vladislav Erkoshow: if it show nothing at your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in the cold. To ask me to explain is to say: 'Roses! Boil them or we won't have them!' My tales may not be roses, but I will not boil them. So long as I think my dog can bark, I will not sit up to bark for him.

"If a writer's aim be logical conviction, he must spare no logical pains, not merely to be understood but to escape being misunderstood; but where his object is to move by suggestion, to cause to imagine, then let him assail the soul of his reader as the wind assails an aeolian harp. If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it."

Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinder Box illustrated by Vladislav Erko

Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinder Box illustrated by Vladislav Erko

I'm reminded of a tale recounted about indigenous storytellers from Siberia to North America:

A story is told to a child (or to a tribal outsider). The listener asks, perplexed, "But what does it mean?"

The story-teller merely smiles. "If you don't understand, then I will tell it to you again."

Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Vladislav Erko

The glorious pictures today are by the Ukrainian painter and illustrator Vladislav Erko. Though born in Kiev, he spent the first seven years of his life in the small village of Pirniv with his grandmother, where he acquired Alice in Wonderland illustrated vy Vladislav Erkothe love of nature which infuses all his work. He studied art at the Polygraphic Academy in Kiev, and began illustrating children's books in 1998. Since then, he has won the Grand Prize at the Ukranian Book Awards (2000), was named the best artist of 2002 by the Moscow Book Review, and received the Anderson House Foundation Award in 2006. He has illustrated many books including The Snow Queen, Alice in Wonderland, Russian Fairy Tales, The Tales of Foggy Albion, Young Roland, Gulliver's Travels, and The Little Prince, and has designed the cover art for the Ukrainian editions of the "Harry Potter" series. You can see more of his work on the Cizgili Masallar illustration blog and on Midori Snyder's In the Labyrinth.

Russian Fairy Tales illustrated by Vladislav Erko

Russian Fairy Tales illustrated by Vladislav ErkoMore from George MacDonald's essay: "Sonatas, storms, and stories."

The message in the bottle

Tales of the Firebird by Gennady Spirin

"Maybe every strange, alienated kid is presumed to write, because people had always said to me, Do you write? And up until I was about fifteen, reading was my great pleasure, and I read a lot. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I always carried a talismanic copy of Nightwood or Against Nature with me to ward off evil. I’m no longer sure exactly what those books represented to me, but they were very portable. When I was in high school, all my friends said they were going to be writers. And I thought, How come you get to be a writer, and I don’t? I thought WRITER was written on their foreheads and they saw it when they looked in the mirror, and I sure didn’t see it when I looked in the mirror.

"I always thought of writing as holy. I still do. It’s not something to be approached casually."

- Deborah Eisenberg (The Paris Review)

Philipok by Gennad Spirin

Russian Winter by Gennady Spirin

"A piece of fiction is a communication. You’re sending an urgent message in a bottle from your desert island. You hope that somebody’s going to find the bottle and open it and say, S ... O ... X? No. S ... O ...

"But the message that is found cannot be exactly the message you’ve sent. Whatever bunch of words the writer transmits requires a person, a consciousness on the other end, to reassemble it. You know how it feels when you read something that opens up a little sealed envelope in your brain. It’s a letter from yourself, but it’s been delivered by somebody else, a writer.

"Nothing is more fortifying than learning that you have a real reader, a reader who truly responds both accurately and actively. It gives you courage, and you feel, I can crawl out on the branch a little further. It’s going to hold."

- Deborah Eisenberg (The Paris Review)

The Sea King's Daughter by Gennady Spirin

"I think every work of art is an act of faith, or we wouldn't bother to do it. It is a message in a bottle, a shout in the dark. It's saying, 'I'm here and I believe that you are somewhere and that you will answer if necessary across time, not necessarily in my lifetime."   - Jeanette Winterson

The Children of Lir by Gennady Spirin

The sumptuous art in this post is by the great Russian painter and illustrator Gennady Spirin. He was born on Christmas Day in Orekhove-Zuyevo (a small town near Moscow), studied fine art and illustration in Moscow, and emigrated to the United States with his wife and children in 1992. His many books include The Children of Lir, The Frog Princess, The Sea King's Daughter, The Tale of the Firebird, and The White Cat.

Please visit the artist's website for a full bibliography, and to see more of his work.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Genady Spirin

The Frog Princess by Gennady Spirin

The mystery of stories

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

"I find it so difficult to talk about what I do. There are those who are unnervingly articulate about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it....I am not particularly articulate, unnervingly or otherwise. I do believe there is, in fact, a mystery to the whole enterprise that one dares to investigate at peril. The story knows itself better than the writer does at some point, knows what’s being said before the writer figures out how to say it. There’s a word in German, Sehnsucht. No English equivalent, which is often the case. It means the longing for something that cannot be expressed, or inconsolable longing. There’s a word in Welsh, hwyl, for which we also have no match. Again, it is longing, a longing of the spirit. I just think many of my figures seek something that cannot be found."

 - Joy Williams (author of The Changeling, etc.) in The Paris Review

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

"When I’m at work I’m highly superstitious. My own superstition has to do with the voice in which the story comes out. I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. These sprites are both old and young, male and female, sentimental and cynical, sceptical and credulous, and so on, and what’s more, they’re completely amoral: like the air-spirits who helped Strong Hans escape from the cave, the story-sprites are willing to serve whoever has the ring, whoever is telling the tale. To the accusation that this is nonsense, that all you need to tell a story is a human imagination, I reply, ‘Of course, and this is the way my imagination works.' "

 - Philip Pullman, (author of The Golden Compass, etc.) in his introduction to Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev, page design, pages 14-15

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

The beautiful fairy tale paintings in this post are by the Belarusian artist Anton Lomaev. He was born in Vitebsk in 1971, studied at the Russian Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, and has been illustrating children's books and designing book cover art since the 1990s.

The paintings above come from Lomaev's edition of "The Wild Swans" by Hans Christian Andersen.  Below is his cover art for the Russian edition of East by Edith Pattou (a wonderful novel based on the Scandinavian fairy tale"East of the Sun, West of the Moon"), and a painting of his desk. Please visit Anton Lomaev's website to see more of his magical art.

Anton Lomaev's cover art for East by Edith Pattou

"And telling a story, I suppose, is like winding a skein of spun yarn -- you sometimes lose track of the beginning."  - Edith Pattou, from East.

Anton Lomaev's deskA few related posts: "Swan's Wing,"   "Swan Maiden & Crane Wives," and "When Stories Take Flight."