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Dossier thématique

Ted van Lieshout’s Daring Approach to Fairytale Illustrations and Texts

Vanessa Joosen

Résumé

The Dutch author and illustrator Ted van Lieshout is famous and perhaps even infamous for his taboo-breaking children’s books. Van Lieshout has also found an original angle for fairy-tale illustrations, which he develops in particular in his short-story collections Driedelig paard (Tripartite Horse) from 2011 and Onder mijn matras de erwt (Under my mattress the pea) from 2017. While in the former, he illustrates the stories with sonnets compiled of images (“beeldsonnetten”), in the latter he uses dressed up wooden puppets to give new meaning to the texts. Both intriguing and mundane, uncanny and humorous, these images lend themselves to various interpretations. Moreover, Van Lieshout re-frames the fairy tales by placing them in a broader context: the short stories in Driedelig paard explore the tension between realism and fantasy, while in Onder mijn matras de erwt, Van Lieshout uses the tales for an exploration of divorce, loneliness and death. All these efforts combined give Grimm’s fairy tales new meaning and relevance for a contemporary, double-addressed audience.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Rita Ghesquière, Vanessa Joosen and Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer, “Geschiedenis van de jeugdliteratuu (...)
  • 2 Ibid., p. 50-53.

1Since the 1970s, Dutch children’s books have stood under a strong influence of neo-enlightened views on education, which aim to foster the emancipation of the young.1 As a result, Dutch children’s literature has become known for its progressive stance, shunning few taboos in an effort to familiarize children with subjects like politics, power struggles and sexuality, and in order to prepare them for active participation in the real world. Especially since the 1980s, leading artists and critics in the field have also displayed a favourable attitude towards literary and artistic experimentation for all ages.2

  • 3 Wilma van der Pennen, “Ted van Lieshout”, Lexicon van de jeugdliteratuur, February 1994, p. 1-6.
  • 4 Ted van Lieshout and Philip Hopman (ill.), Boer Boris, Haarlem, Gottmer, 2012.
  • 5 Ted van Lieshout, Zeer kleine liefde, Amsterdam, Leopold, 1999; Ted van Lieshout, Mijn meneer, Amst (...)
  • 6 Ted van Lieshout, Driedelig paard: Blokgedichten, beeldsonnetten en tekeningen, Amsterdam, Leopold, (...)

2Ted van Lieshout has been at the forefront of this vanguard movement in progressive, innovative children’s literature since the mid-1980s, when he started publishing his first books of poetry for children.3 Since then, he has produced artistic work for young and adult readers in various forms: poems, novels, memoirs, picture books, drawings, photographs, screenplays and songs. He won the prestigious Theo Thijssen Award for his oeuvre in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2014 and 2016. In some of his works, he adopts a more conventional take on children’s books – for example, his recent Boer Boris picture-book series about a farmer and his animals are funny, but do not push back any boundaries.4 Yet, in most of his other titles he addresses the recurrent themes of identity, queerness and recognition in innovative and daring ways. Highly controversial were the three books that Ted van Lieshout wrote about a sexual relationship that he had as a child with an adult man, especially since one of those titles is addressed to children and to adults.5 In these three books, Van Lieshout refuses to see himself as a victim of paedophilia or condemn his former lover in a straightforward manner. In Driedelig paard, one of the books I will analyze in more detail below, Van Lieshout addresses old age without taboos: euthanasia, incontinence and sexual obsession in old age are among the topics that he serves to his young readers in this book.6 Many of Van Lieshout’s books are characterized by a complex mixture of satire and sensitivity and a never-ending impetus to reinvent himself with different modes and styles. As Wilma van der Pennen notes:

  • 7 My translation. Original text: “Kenmerkend voor zijn werk is het voortdurend zoeken naar nieuwe vor (...)

Typical of his work is the continued search for new forms; as soon as he masters something, he is looking for a new challenge. He tries to insert something innovative into every book that appears. He experiments with writing and drawing, but at the same time he displays a recognizable (drawing) style and a number of recurrent themes: death, people who do not belong, contradictory feelings while growing up, searching for a sense of security and footing, one’s own place.7

  • 8 Kris Nauwelaerts, “Ted Van Lieshout: Zie mij graag”, Literatuur zonder leeftijd, n° 98, 2015, p. 19 (...)
  • 9 Ted van Liesthout, Onder mijn matras de erwt: Gedichten en portretten, Amsterdam, Leopold, 2017.

3While Van der Pennen wrote this impression of his oeuvre in 1994, her observation about Van Lieshout’s drive to constantly innovate in his work still holds for the 21st century. His illustration styles currently range from comic and detailed drawings to abstract, graphic art.8 In his most recent works, Van Lieshout has experimented especially with photography. In this article, I will highlight how his sustained efforts to innovate have affected his approach to fairy tales, both in text and in image. I will focus on two books in which he deals extensively with this genre: the aforementioned Driedelig paard (2011) and the more recent Onder mijn matras de erwt (2017, Under my matress the pea).9 There he mixes references to the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen in poems and images that shed new light on both the fairy tales and on experiences of childhood in the 21st century.

A horse in three parts

  • 10 T. van Lieshout, Driedelig paard, op. cit., p. 29.

4In Driedelig paard, which translates freely as “tripartite horse”, Van Lieshout produces a mixture of discourses in a way that exposes and satirizes the features that we would typically associate with them. At first sight, the book consists of a series of images and prose fragments that have little in common, except that each mini-story is printed on a single page. Upon closer inspection, however, all of the texts are connected in one way or another, presenting the reader with an eclectic group of short scenes that crystalize around four narrative threads. First, the book can be read as a narrative about a family with two children and a grandmother – the grandfather has recently passed away. They write letters, mostly to each other, and offer testimonies about joint experiences and conflicts. The children especially are involved in small scenes that verge on the magical, but the book deliberately plays with the question of whether actual magic has occurred, or whether the children’s imagination may have taken them too far – this is the second narrative strand, and this is where most fairy-tale references pop up. In a third strand, we hear the voices of objects, animals and magical creatures. There, for example, a group of teaspoons complain that they do not want to be thrown into a heap with the forks, but prefer to be arranged in the drawer with the knives, where they also sit when the table is set.10 A fourth and final strand in the book parodies more formal language, ranging from newspaper articles to official letters of complaint. Various stories in the book belong to more than one strand.

  • 11 Ibid., p. 87.
  • 12 Ibid., p. 77, my translation. Original text: “een paard in drie kleuren: het hoofd is roodbruin, de (...)
  • 13 Ibid., p. 77, my translation. Original text: “ik heb altijd gedacht dat een driedelig paard niet ka (...)

5In addition to this textual and narrative variety, Van Lieshout also uses three different illustration styles throughout Driedelig paard: nostalgic filmic images, iconic silhouettes and graphic sonnets. In the endpapers, which draw on film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs from the 1870s,11 Van Lieshout evokes the moment of a horse with rider in a nostalgic style. The images connect with an important strand in the story: that of the family’s grandmother who has recently been widowed and reconnects with a dream that she had as a child, to own her own horse. When she suggested that her father could buy the horse in three instalments – hence the title of the book – he mocked her and asked which part she wanted first: head, legs or tail? In old age, she discovers a horse in three parts behind her backyard: “a horse in three colours: the head is sorrel, the chest is beige blonde, and the backside is dun”.12 When the horse follows her and allows her to pet it, she is reminded of her childhood longing: “I have always thought that a horse in three parts cannot exist. But it does exist”.13

  • 14 Tobias Kurwinkel, “Picturebooks and Movies”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Co (...)
  • 15 Beatriz Hoster Coba, María José Lobato Suero and Alberto Ruiz Campos, “Interpictoriality in Picture (...)

6The endpapers, showing loops of a horse and rider that gradually grow faint and then reappear again (figure 1), mimic that movement of memory that fades but can also re-emerge vividly and intensely. While static, the horse is also in movement and cannot be pinned down to a single moment, just like a powerful memory cannot be quite captured and may acquire different meanings in the course of a lifetime. Moreover, the link with the moving images of Eadweard Muybridge’s photograph series evokes the experience of a supernatural effect. This is an “intermedial reference” that “generates an illusion of another medium’s specific techniques”,14 while it is also an instance of what Beatriz Hoster Cabo, María José Lobato Suero and Alberto Ruiz Campos call “interpictoriality”: a “relationship between pictorial texts” that requires some “pictorial-visual knowledge” and reading strategies.15 A reading of the connection can go beyond merely observing that Van Lieshout uses a well-known image of a horse to decorate the endpapers of a book that has a horse in the title. The context in which the filmic images originally appeared can add a further layer of meaning. As Esther Leslie explains about the experience of watching Muybridge’s phantasmagoric, moving pictures in the nineteenth century:

  • 16 Esther Leslie, “Loops and joins: Muybridge and the optics of animation”, Early Popular Visual Cultu (...)

On the screen, before the audience, a still image was suddenly cranked into life and the coil of filmstrip rushed through the projector until its end. The delight derived not from the scene on the screen alone, but from viewing the transition from stillness to movement, or, in other words, witnessing the actual event of the inputting of quasi-life. The moment was magic.16

7The dynamic movement in Muybridge’s horse, which alternates between faintness and vividness, between statis and movement, between realism and magic also characterizes Van Lieshout’s approach to fairy tales.

Figure 1: Detail of the endpapers for Driedelig paard. Printed with permission of Ted van Lieshout.

  • 17 T. van Lieshout, Driedelig paard, op. cit., p. 16, my translation. Original text: “We wisten het al (...)

8The final line of the book is that – against all odds – a horse in three parts does exist. This line connects with a central question that runs through the entire book and that becomes most clearly expressed in the fairy-tale sections: can magic happen? One of the earliest texts in the book, for example, raises the question of whether elves exist. It describes a scene of a brother and sister walking a dog on the beach, when the sister claims that she has seen an elf, whereas the brother thinks it was a simple flash of lightning: “We both weren’t sure so that was that. But when the rain wouldn’t fall and no thunderstorm came, my sister said that was proof that it really had been an elf”.17 The sister gets so upset when the brother keeps casting doubt that he eventually decides to drop the subject. This story is illustrated in the second style that Van Lieshout uses in the book: it shows fragmented silhouettes of animals or objects that feature in the texts, in colourful, iconic shapes that are laid over the text and bleed over onto the facing page (figure 2). In this case, it is especially appropriate that the image is a shape that can be interpreted in various ways: the yellow silhouette resembles the wings of an elf without showing the actual body. The shape is as fleeting as the flash that the siblings see, flying off the page before it has been truly grasped. This means that the shape that is visible can also be read as something else: the petals of a flower, for example, or the wings of a butterfly. Like the story, the illustration leaves it ambiguous whether a magical being is present.

Figure 2: The “elf” from Driedelig Paard. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.

  • 18 Ibid., p. 20, my translation. Original text: “Later hoorden we dat ze een soort hartaanval had geha (...)
  • 19 Unless otherwise stated, all my references to the Grimms are based on the final edition of 1857, as (...)

9The alternative to a belief in fairy tales is addressed in another series of tales and their accompanying images. Most of these mini-narratives take place in the classroom, an environment – Van Lieshout suggests – that kills the imagination. In one tale, a teacher hands her apple to another teacher, who loses consciousness after biting it. The narrator of the story, a child, describes how he keeps calm while everybody else is panicking, racing to the principal’s office and calling an ambulance. “Later we heard that she had had a kind of heart attack,” he explains, “so it wasn’t the apple that caused it. She is going to be alright after all, though she will have to quit smoking now”.18 While the element of potential female rivalry, the apple, and the sudden loss of consciousness may tempt the reader to connect this story with the Brothers Grimm’s “Snow White”, this association is proven to be a red herring within the story itself.19 Not only does the ending firmly root the story in reality, it is thanks to the narrator’s down-to-earth, practical approach that the teacher’s life is saved.

  • 20 K. Nauwelaerts, “Ted van Lieshout”, op. cit., p. 210, my translation. Original text: “Deze artistie (...)
  • 21 Ibid., p. 210, my translation. Original text: “De Nul-kunstenaars gaan aan de slag met voorwerpen d (...)

10This story is illustrated in the third style that Ted van Lieshout uses in Driedelig paard, a so-called “beeldsonnet” or “image sonnet.” In various photographs throughout the book, series of objects are arranged on the page in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, with fourteen lines, four stanzas and an identifiable rhyme scheme. As Kris Nauwelaerts has argued, Van Lieshout was inspired for this strand in his work by the Dutch “Nul-beweging” or “Zero art movement”: “This avant-garde artistic movement rebelled against the individual expression of the Cobra movement and instead offers a serial, anti-individualist and anti-expressive art form”.20 The artists “take objects that they find in their direct surroundings which they can use in repetitive ways”.21

Figure 3: The apple sonnet from Driedelig paard. Printed with permission by Ted van Lieshout.

11For the “Snow White” retelling, the image sonnet displays an apple in various states of decay, from fresh and yellow to brown and shriveled (figure 3). You could read this as a metaphor for the state of the fairy-tale, which has here withered to an unappealing form – who would want to bite the brown, withered apple at the end of the poem? As a metonym for the tale of “Snow White” and the fairy-tale genre more broadly, the shriveled apple supports the retelling’s message that stories about magic are past their prime. At the same time, the dried apple with its two brown lobes is also reminiscent of cautionary advertisements on cigarette packets that confront smokers with the state of their darkened, shriveled lungs. The interpictorial connection suggests that we should not take Van Lieshout’s critique of the fairy tale too seriously, but recognize its playful confrontation of two scripts (a fairy tale and medical cautionary discourse) in a parodic manner. Moreover, here we see the same dynamics as in the endpapers, with the horse that kept disappearing and reappearing in repeated loops: a new apple reappears each time to wither and then be replaced by another one, testifying to the viability of Grimm’s fairy tales, which surface time and again despite being attacked for their datedness and irrelevance.

  • 22 K. Nauwelaerts, “Ted van Lieshout”, op. cit., p. 18.

12In other rewritings too, Van Lieshout ridicules characters who believe in fairy tales. The child who thinks he hears a frog talk in the classroom and decides to kiss it ends up with lips covered in slime.22 Yet, the absence of magic is also regretted in the book. This becomes most clear in the story that alludes to “Cinderella”. Once again, this fairy-tale rewriting takes place in school, this time during a mathematics class. A handsome man interrupts the children doing sums to ask if anyone fits the shoe that he has brought. As the narrator explains:

  • 23 Ibid., p. 19, my translation. Original text: “Alle meisjes staken hun hand op en de helft van de jo (...)

All the girls raised their hands and half of the boys, although everybody saw it was a high-heeled shoe. The gentleman skipped all the boys and only let the girls try the shoe. Sadly all the girls’ feet in our class were a bit too small, and that’s why the gentleman left again. But I know for sure that the shoe would have fit me perfectly if I had been able to try it, because my feet are slightly bigger than those of the girls in our class.23

  • 24 Pauline Greenhill, “Sexualities / Queer and Trans Studies”, in Pauline Greenhill, Jill Terry Rudy, (...)

13The dated ideology in the tale of “Cinderella” is exposed here. The visiting gentleman is stuck in a heteronormative framework that is often associated with the classic fairy tales and that makes him ignore all the boys who raise their hands.24 The children seem less restrained, but due to the man’s rigid thinking and lack of imagination, nothing happens and the story ends in an anti-climax. The feeling of “what if” lingers here – what if the boy could have tried the shoe? What if it had fit? It is significant that this story lacks any form of illustration – it is printed alongside another block of text. This lack of visuals signals the absence of the imagination that the story deplores. So even though Van Lieshout’s retellings and illustrations hint at the decay of the fairy-tale imagination, as a whole, the book does not quite seem ready to give up the belief in magic altogether, and the illustration’s playfulness and telling absence help to support this ambivalent message.

Under my mattress the pea

  • 25 T. van Lieshout, Onder mijn matras de erwt, op. cit., p. 89.

14Van Lieshout’s “Cinderella” retelling signals a child’s wish to be noticed, its desire to be exceptional and to be singled out. This is a key theme in Under my mattress the pea, in which Van Lieshout centres a collection of poems on a twelve-year-old girl who is faced with her parents’ divorce and her beloved grandmother’s life ending. Once again, fairy-tale references are blended into this story on several occasions. The illustrations underline two central themes in the collection’s treatment of fairy tales: giving new meaning to old narratives on the one hand, and blending everyday domestic themes with the extraordinary on the other. Moreover, the visuals bring to the fore a third aspect of the girl’s development: the transformation of identities through the performance of different roles, here symbolized by different types of ornaments and head dress. The poetry collection is illustrated with a series of photographs of old dolls’ heads. In the afterword, Van Lieshout explains that he made these puppets’ heads in the 1980s from clay, dried, painted and then kept them until they had aged. He then decorated them with various household items and photographed them.25 These photographs are a far cry from traditional fairy-tale illustrations, but support the book’s central ideas of individuality, performance and transformation.

15The title Onder mijn matras de erwt refers to the child’s wish to be unique, to be as special as the princess from Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale, who could not sleep because of a single pea under her bed of thick mattresses. In the image that accompanies this text’s rewriting, she does not keep the peas covered under her mattress, however, but wears them around her head (figure 4): her need to feel exceptional is thus exposed in an almost grotesque manner, while the image also bestows on the child a vulnerable, begging look that expresses her need to be loved.

Figure 4: Left: The princess with a crown of peas, from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.
Right:
Emblem poem for “Rapunzel” from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.

  • 26 Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, L (...)
  • 27 Ibid., p. 46.

16Early on in the book, the narrator still appears to be down-to-earth, and like some of the characters in Driedelig paard, she questions the magic and logic of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales. In a poem that takes the form of an emblem, where the typography matches a central element from the content, she deconstructs the Grimms’ tale of “Rapunzel”. The poem’s typography evokes the downward movement of the famous Grimms character’s hair (figure 5), while Rapunzel here describes the prince going up, wondering why he is not simply using the stairs. This contradictory movement – down as well as up – is another textual and visual expression of the ambivalent attitude to fairy tales that Van Lieshout’s work adopts. Moreover, the most famous occurrence of this visual effect in children’s literature can be found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), where the Mouse tells a tale that takes the form of a tail winding downwards.26 The story is infamous for its dullness: it is introduced by the Mouse as “the driest thing I know” and serves to literally dry up the characters after they have been swimming in the pool of tears.27 Indeed, Alice’s mind has wandered off long before the tail/tale has reached its pointy end. The interpictorial allusion in Onder mijn matras de erwt to one of the most boring tales in children’s literature can be interpreted in two ways: it can be taken for a critical comment on the Grimms’ “Rapunzel” as a tale that no longer interests the narrator, or on the contrary, the narrator’s ironic and practical take on “Rapunzel” can equally be argued to rob the story not only of its magic, but also of its interest. Who would, after all, be captivated by a narrative where a prince takes the stairs to rescue the princess?

  • 28 T. van Lieshout, Onder mijn matras de erwt, op. cit., p. 34, my translation. Original text: “papa, (...)

17After the separation of her parents, the narrator’s tone changes and this affects her stance on fairy tales. The girl protagonist starts dreaming of wearing glass slippers so that a prince will come to save her from her divorcing parents. Not that this leads to anything. As she calls “daddy, I’m here!” after her father, he ignores her because “he had seen from afar a stepmother with big breasts”.28 The tale starts in a fairy-tale world of hope and ends in mundane frustration. In the texts, the blend of the magical with a more practical look on life mainly serves to shatter the illusion of the former, which creates a tragicomic effect, similar to Driedelig paard. But in the illustrations, the reverse happens: the combination with the mysterious dolls elevates the domestic items to acquire new meaning.

18A recurrent narrative strand in the girl’s story is her wish to be a princess. On the one hand, this dream is informed by her wish to be exceptional; on the other hand, in the context of her parents’ divorce, it is her wish to remain her father’s special little girl, his “princess.” One poem voices this idea most clearly:

I am
the princess.

I look for
the brave one.

I bravely
look for the

frog.
I am

the brave
princess

who will bravely
kiss

  • 29 Ibid., p. 44, my translation. Original text: “Ik ben / de prinses. // Ik zoek / de dappere. // Ik z (...)

the frog.29

19The poem rewrites the Brothers Grimm’s “The Frog King, or the Iron Henry” to transform the spoiled princess into a brave and active character. The illustration also works with the idea of transformation by combining well-known objects in an unexpected way. The doll in the picture is wearing a crown made of wooden clothes pegs (figure 5a). The image is symbolic of what the girl is trying to do in her life: to elevate the ordinary to something special and to re-envisage the domestic to give it royal status. The images succeed in doing so: the unexpected combinations are mysterious and fascinating and attract attention. By contrast, the narrator’s quest to be perceived as special invariably fails as her parents either ignore her or even make her the subject of abuse.

Figure 5: 5a (left): A crown of clothes’ pegs from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.
5b (right): A crown of belts from
Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.

20Indeed, the use of fairy-tale motives in Onder mijn matras de erwt takes a very dark turn in the story “Op een nacht was mijn moeder het kind” (“One night my mother was the child”). This disturbing text alludes to Charles Perrault’s “Little Tom Thumb” and the infamous scene at the ogre’s house in which Tom Thumb makes sure that the ogre mixes up Tom Thumb’s siblings with his own children, so that he ends up killing his own offspring. This gruesome passage gets a modern, realistic twist when the mother wakes up her daughter in the middle of the night, whispering into her ear that they have to switch places in bed. Alone in her mother’s bedroom, the girl then grows scared when her mother’s new boyfriend enters, drunk and aggressive:

He threw open the door. I saw

he had pulled the belt from his trousers. He wanted to
strike and hit me with it, but I yelled: I am
not my mother! He startled, because he had almost

  • 30 Ibid., p. 48, my translation. Original text: “Hij gooide de deur open. Ik zag // dat hij de riem ui (...)

killed this child.30

  • 31 Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Princeton, Oxford, Princeton University Press, (...)
  • 32 T. van Lieshout, Onder mijn matras de erwt, op. cit., p. 48, my translation. Original text: “Ik wee (...)
  • 33 Charles Perrault and Gustave Doré, Les contes de Charles Perrault, Paris, Hetzel, 1867.
  • 34 Ibid., p. 63.
  • 35 Ibid., p. 64.

21In contrast to Perrault’s “Little Tom Thumb”, it is not a stranger, but the mother herself who initiates the change and confusion. The tale thus blends Perrault’s ogre scene with early editions of the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel”, where a mother sacrifices her own children for her own survival. There is good reason why the Grimms changed this mother into a stepmother in later versions of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen:31 the idea that a mother should sacrifice her own children to save herself is hard to bear, then and now. The accompanying illustration is equally disturbing: here the crown no longer consists of washing pegs but of a belt that is wound around the puppet’s head (figure 5b). Further belts strangle its body and neck to illustrate the feeling of suffocation that the child experiences when she thinks: “I am not sure / whether my mother saved us then or whether she would have / had me killed if her previous boyfriend in his anger / had not noticed the difference between her and me”.32 The photograph figures as a modern counterpoint to one of the most chilling pictures in fairy-tale history: Gustave Doré’s illustration of the ogre as he is about to slice the throats of his sleeping children.33 The child puppet in Ted van Lieshout’s picture, by contrast, is wide awake, staring into the camera with knowing eyes that look empty and sad. While the child may have physically survived the awful night, something inside her seems to have died nevertheless: the girl has lost faith in her mother. The belts that are wound around her are also distinctly adult accessories, with their broad leather bands and iron tips. While they thus point to the mother’s boyfriend, they also symbolize the “adult” knowledge that marks the child more and more as she has to adapt to circumstances after her parents’ divorce. Although the title reads “one day my mother was the child”, the illustration also marks the opposite move: that of child who is forced to come of age too soon. This line of thought is continued in one of the final poems in the collection, which – once more – alludes to “Snow White”. As the girl looks into the mirror, she sees a monster, but also contemplates what has happened to the prettiest girl in school: she has killed herself by jumping out of a high window.34 As the narrator gives up the fairy-tale dream to be the most beautiful, she is prepared to see the beauty in ordinary life and to acknowledge that beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.35

Conclusion

  • 36 Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, New York, Palgrave Macm (...)

22In his rewritings and their illustrations, Ted van Lieshout confronts Perrault’s, Grimm’s and Andersen’s tales with a contemporary setting and protagonists who cannot make claims to royalty or exceptionality. In both Driedelig paard and Onder mijn matras de erwt, the reader is invited to confront the fairy-tale logic with a more realistic take on life. Even as the mini-stories and poems adopt a satirical tone and repeatedly mock the reliance on fairy-tale scripts, the longing for magic and the mysterious remains. Except for the texts that remain deliberately void of illustrations, such as the “Cinderella” tale in Driedelig paard, the images support this effort to infuse the mundane with a touch of magic, and conversely – bring the root elements of magic (the apple, the fairy) back into reality. In addition, the illustrations all elevate the ordinary to an artform, whether it is by arranging decaying apples to form a sonnet, or by turning peas, yarn, clothing pegs and even belts into crowns. This idea matches the spirit in which the Brothers Grimm worked, whose ideals about folktales made people see new value in the common and ordinary by the way the tales were arranged and framed.36 In the end, the belief in fairy tales does not truly harm the characters. At most, it embarrasses and disappoints them, and at some point, the characters seem to outgrow it, even if – as the grandmother’s wish for a horse in three parts is unexpectedly fulfilled in old age – magic can resurface at unexpected times. While the two books question the fairy tale’s relevance, Van Lieshout’s repeated engagement with the stories testifies to their lasting impact and relevance. Even as the tales are deconstructed and satirized, their imagination and optimism also prove to be a source of inspiration, for characters, author and illustrator alike.

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Notes

1 Rita Ghesquière, Vanessa Joosen and Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer, “Geschiedenis van de jeugdliteratuur in vogelvlucht.”, in Rita Ghesquière, Vanessa Joosen and Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer (eds), Een land van waan en wijs: Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse jeugdliteratuur, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Atlas Contact, 2014, p. 47-49.

2 Ibid., p. 50-53.

3 Wilma van der Pennen, “Ted van Lieshout”, Lexicon van de jeugdliteratuur, February 1994, p. 1-6.

4 Ted van Lieshout and Philip Hopman (ill.), Boer Boris, Haarlem, Gottmer, 2012.

5 Ted van Lieshout, Zeer kleine liefde, Amsterdam, Leopold, 1999; Ted van Lieshout, Mijn meneer, Amsterdam, Querido, 2012; Ted van Lieshout, Schuldig kind, Amsterdam, Querido, 2017.

6 Ted van Lieshout, Driedelig paard: Blokgedichten, beeldsonnetten en tekeningen, Amsterdam, Leopold, 2011.

7 My translation. Original text: “Kenmerkend voor zijn werk is het voortdurend zoeken naar nieuwe vormen; zodra hij iets beheerst, zoekt hij een nieuwe uitdaging. Van ieder boek dat verschijnt, probeert hij iets vernieuwends uit te laten gaan. Hij experimenteert met schrijven en tekenen, maar laat tegelijk een herkenbare (teken)stijl zien en een aantal terugkerende thema’s: dood; mensen die er niet bijhoren; tegenstrijdige gevoelens rond opgroeien; zoeken naar geborgenheid en houvast, naar een eigen plek.” W. van der Pennen, “Ted van Lieshout”, op. cit., p. 2.

8 Kris Nauwelaerts, “Ted Van Lieshout: Zie mij graag”, Literatuur zonder leeftijd, n° 98, 2015, p. 197-214.

9 Ted van Liesthout, Onder mijn matras de erwt: Gedichten en portretten, Amsterdam, Leopold, 2017.

10 T. van Lieshout, Driedelig paard, op. cit., p. 29.

11 Ibid., p. 87.

12 Ibid., p. 77, my translation. Original text: “een paard in drie kleuren: het hoofd is roodbruin, de borst is beigeblond en de kont is bruingrijs”.

13 Ibid., p. 77, my translation. Original text: “ik heb altijd gedacht dat een driedelig paard niet kan bestaan. Maar het bestaat”.

14 Tobias Kurwinkel, “Picturebooks and Movies”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, London, Routledge, 2018, p. 326.

15 Beatriz Hoster Coba, María José Lobato Suero and Alberto Ruiz Campos, “Interpictoriality in Picturebooks”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, London, Routledge, 2018, p. 91.

16 Esther Leslie, “Loops and joins: Muybridge and the optics of animation”, Early Popular Visual Culture 11, n° 1, 2013, p. 28.

17 T. van Lieshout, Driedelig paard, op. cit., p. 16, my translation. Original text: “We wisten het allebei gewoon niet zeker dus dat was dat. Maar toen er almaar geen regen wilde vallen en er ook geen onweer kwam, zei mijn zus dat dat het bewijs was dat het wel degelijk een elfje was geweest”.

18 Ibid., p. 20, my translation. Original text: “Later hoorden we dat ze een soort hartaanval had gehad, dus het was niet de schuld van de appel. Het komt ook wel weer goed met haar, al moet ze nu wel stoppen met roken”.

19 Unless otherwise stated, all my references to the Grimms are based on the final edition of 1857, as reprinted in: Brüder Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand mit den Originalanmerkungen der Brüder Grimm, Heinz Rölleke (ed.), 3 vols, Stuttgart, Reclam, 2001.

20 K. Nauwelaerts, “Ted van Lieshout”, op. cit., p. 210, my translation. Original text: “Deze artistieke avant-garde beweging uit de vroege Jaren zestig verzet zich tegen de individualistische expressie van de Cobra-beweging en stelt hier tegenover een seriële, anti-individualistische en anti-expressieve kunstvorm”.

21 Ibid., p. 210, my translation. Original text: “De Nul-kunstenaars gaan aan de slag met voorwerpen die ze in hun directe omgeving vinden en die ze op een repetitieve manier kunnen gebruiken”.

22 K. Nauwelaerts, “Ted van Lieshout”, op. cit., p. 18.

23 Ibid., p. 19, my translation. Original text: “Alle meisjes staken hun hand op en de helft van de jongens, hoewel iedereen zag dat het een schoen met hoge hak was. De meneer sloeg alle jongens over en liet alleen de meisjes de schoen passen. Helaas waren alle voeten van de meisjes bij ons in de klas iets te klein, en daarom ging de meneer weer weg. Maar ik weet bijna zeker dat de schoen mij als gegoten gezeten had als ik hem had mogen passen, want mijn voeten zijn net iets groter dan die van de meisjes bij ons in de klas”.

24 Pauline Greenhill, “Sexualities / Queer and Trans Studies”, in Pauline Greenhill, Jill Terry Rudy, Naomi Hamer and Lauren Bosc (eds), The Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy-Tale Cultures, New York, Routledge, 2018, p. 290.

25 T. van Lieshout, Onder mijn matras de erwt, op. cit., p. 89.

26 Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, London, Penguin, 1970, p. 51.

27 Ibid., p. 46.

28 T. van Lieshout, Onder mijn matras de erwt, op. cit., p. 34, my translation. Original text: “papa, / ik sta hier”; “hij had in de verte / een stiefmoeder gezien met grote borsten”.

29 Ibid., p. 44, my translation. Original text: “Ik ben / de prinses. // Ik zoek / de dappere. // Ik zoek / dapper de // kikker. / Ik ben // de dappere / prinses // die dapper / de kikker // gaat kussen”.

30 Ibid., p. 48, my translation. Original text: “Hij gooide de deur open. Ik zag // dat hij de riem uit zijn broek getrokken had. Hij wilde / uithalen en mij ermee slaan, maar ik riep: ik ben / mijn moeder niet! Hij schrok, want hij had bijna // dit kind vermoord”.

31 Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Princeton, Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 36.

32 T. van Lieshout, Onder mijn matras de erwt, op. cit., p. 48, my translation. Original text: “Ik weet niet // of mijn moeder ons toen gered heeft of dat ze me had / laten ombrengen als haar vorige vriend van razernij / niet het verschil had gezien tussen mama en mij”.

33 Charles Perrault and Gustave Doré, Les contes de Charles Perrault, Paris, Hetzel, 1867.

34 Ibid., p. 63.

35 Ibid., p. 64.

36 Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p. 26-27.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Detail of the endpapers for Driedelig paard. Printed with permission of Ted van Lieshout.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6470/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 35k
Crédits Figure 2: The “elf” from Driedelig Paard. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6470/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 74k
Légende Figure 3: The apple sonnet from Driedelig paard. Printed with permission by Ted van Lieshout.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6470/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 90k
Légende Figure 4: Left: The princess with a crown of peas, from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout. Right: Emblem poem for “Rapunzel” from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6470/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 133k
Légende Figure 5: 5a (left): A crown of clothes’ pegs from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.5b (right): A crown of belts from Onder mijn matras de erwt. Printed with the permission of Ted van Lieshout.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6470/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 150k
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Référence électronique

Vanessa Joosen, « Ted van Lieshout’s Daring Approach to Fairytale Illustrations and Texts », Strenæ [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2021, consulté le 19 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/6470 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.6470

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Auteur

Vanessa Joosen

University of Antwerp
Department of Literature

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