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Nostalgia, novelty and innovation: the illustration of Grimms’ tales in the UK in the twenty-first century

Gillian Lathey

Résumé

It was a stroke of genius that caused Charles Baldwyn, publisher of the first English translation of tales by the Grimm Brothers, to hire satirical cartoonist George Cruikshank as illustrator for the publication. Cruikshank’s expressive etchings so impressed the Grimms that they decided to publish their own illustrated small edition in Germany. Thus the first step was taken towards the international commodification of the tales as illustrated children’s and family classics1. Late nineteenth-century UK editions of the Grimms’ tales showcased the work of numerous British artists, from the sumptuous detail of Walter Crane to the darkly romantic interpretations of Arthur Rackham. In the twenty-first century, publishers have sought to capitalise on Victorian traditions by reissuing classic illustrated Grimm collections, or by creating hybrid volumes of new and extant artwork. Alongside such gift-book editions, a spectrum of new interpretations extends from retellings of individual tales in novelty book form to the dramatic and disturbing canvases of fine artist Paula Rego. Two case studies – one of a 2012 anniversary edition of collected tales that uneasily combines the work of disparate artists, and the second of the cross-cultural travels of Philip Pullman’s retellings as envisaged through the radical imagination of Shaun Tan – illustrate both current global trends in children’s publishing and the inexhaustible visual allure of the Grimms’ tales.

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  • 2 For a full account of the connection between Taylor, Baldwyn and Cruikshank see Schacker, ibid., p. (...)
  • 3 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Popular Stories, translated from the Kinder and Haus Märchen, colle (...)
  • 4 See reference to the letter from Wilhelm Grimm to Berlin publisher Georg Andreas Reimer in Heinz Zi (...)
  • 5 Jennifer Schacker, National Dreams, op. cit. Schacker’s remarks on the commodification of the Grimm (...)
  • 6 Despite its title, the series Grimms’ Goblins included stories from sources other than the Grimms. (...)

1It was a stroke of genius on the part of Charles Baldwyn, publisher of the first English edition of the Grimms’ tales in 1823, to hire satirical cartoonist George Cruikshank2 to add copper etchings to Edgar Taylor’s translation entitled German Popular Stories3. Cruikshank’s impish figures and expressive scenes so impressed the Grimm Brothers that Wilhelm Grimm suggested the inclusion of Cruikshank’s work in a “kleine deutsche Ausgabe” (small German edition) modelled on the English publication4. Although this “small edition” eventually appeared in 1825 with illustrations by Ludwig Emil Grimm, Cruikshank’s etchings and Taylor’s selective eye represent, as Jennifer Schacker has demonstrated in her developmental account of nineteenth-century fairy tales, a pivotal moment in the entire international history of the Grimms’ tales as illustrated children’s and family classics5. This was certainly true within the UK, where an army of British illustrators followed Cruikshank’s lead, most notably Richard Doyle in 1846; Hablot K. Browne (best known as illustrator of Charles Dickens’ novels) in the weekly series Grimms’ Goblins from 1860 and, later, Walter Crane’s sumptuous detail in 1882, or Arthur Rackham’s darkly romantic interpretations published in 1900 and 19096. Across the twentieth century, illustrations include the sinister evocations of Mervyn Peake in 1946 as well as picture book editions of individual tales, of which Anthony Browne’s Hansel and Gretel of 1981, with its combination of hyperrealist detail and foreboding atmosphere, is one of the most memorable and aesthetically commanding interpretations.

2Charles Baldwyn’s influential decision to add images to Taylor’s translation is a timely reminder that publishing companies play a major though often overlooked – role in the gestation and realisation of illustrated editions of the Grimms’ tales. In an article entitled “Booking the Brothers Grimm: Art, Adaptations and Economics” Betsy Hearne argues that:

  • 7 Betsy Hearne, “Booking the Brothers Grimm: Art, Adaptations and Economics”, in James M. Mc Glathery (...)

…while fairy tales, especially the Grimms’, have been analysed as recurrent for their aesthetic, psychological, cultural, and historical importance, there is a further reason for their perpetuation and popularity: the economics of publishing7.

3A financial impetus also governs illustration: nineteenth-century artwork resurfaces, for example, as one aspect of the nexus of repackaging, adaptation and innovation that characterises recent publications of the Grimms’ tales in the UK. By commissioning renowned or sometimes untested artists, creating series formats, undertaking forays into novelty publishing and, latterly, feeding the nostalgia for classic editions, the industry – and that includes editors, book designers and marketing departments – has steered or underwritten the illustration of the tales throughout their history.

  • 8 Sarah Gibb, Rapunzel, text by Alison Sage, London, Harper Collins, 2010.
  • 9 Ailie Busby, Hansel and Gretel, London, Ladybird Books, 2014.
  • 10 Dan Taylor, Rapunzel, London, Campbell Books, 2016.
  • 11 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Usborne Illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales, retold by Ruth Brocklehurst and G (...)

4In the twenty-first century, a publishing trend towards picturebook versions of single tales, often retellings rather than direct translations, is dominant. A brief glance at illustrated tales by the Grimms in English published since the year 2000 reveals a plethora of series for younger readers that will appeal to a wide audience. These include tales by the Grimms in the “Best-loved classics” series from publisher Harper Collins, where a Disney-like Rapunzel flaunts tresses of blonde hair decorated with flowers8; or in the “First Favourite Tales” published by Ladybird Books with, for example, a rosy-cheeked Hansel and Gretel9. There are also marvels of paper and cardboard engineering in pop-ups and board books: another pretty, blonde, smiling Rapunzel appears in Dan Taylor’s version with “Push Pull Slide” mechanisms10. The illustrated gift book, too, is alive and well in editions for the mass market such as the Usborne Illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales of 2010 with the modern gift-book hallmark of a padded cover, comprising tales retold for younger children by Ruth Brocklehurst and Gillian Doherty, and sensitively illustrated in watercolour by Italian artist Raffaella Ligi11. Reductive retellings, sanitised illustrations and novelty features of this kind are both attractive and affordable, but lack any note of the brooding atmosphere, melancholy and terror of the tales from which they originate.

  • 12 Beth Woollvin, Little Red, London, Two Hoots, 2016.
  • 13 Anthony Browne, Into the Forest, London, Walker Books, 2004.
  • 14 Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, The Sleeper and the Spindle, London, Bloomsbury, 2014.

5In addition to mass-market offerings, contemporary single tale editions do include original and inventive work. UK examples include newcomer Bethan Woollvin’s graphic rendering and rewriting of Little Red12, chosen as one of the New York Times best illustrated books of 2016; Anthony Browne’s most recent venture into fairy tale territory in Into the Forest (2004)13, or Neil Gaiman’s melding of elements of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”, with striking illustrations by Chris Riddell, in The Sleeper and the Spindle (2014)14. To rework themes from the Grimms and other fairy tales is a highly imaginative and creative endeavour that has produced many outstanding picturebooks (instances from several countries are discussed by other contributors to this publication); it is the artist whose name attracts the buyer and stands at the forefront of publishers’ marketing and publicity.

6None of these artists, however, has worked on a broader selection or collection of tales that remain close to the Grimms’ texts in the manner of nineteenth-century editions. Is there still a place for the illustrated, multiple-tale edition of Grimm’s tales in the world of modern publishing? If so, what form might such a publication take, and what might be its purpose and audience? It is to compendium editions close to the Grimms’ texts that I wish to turn in order to begin to address these questions by highlighting two specific trends in UK publications of the tales. Contrasting editions of selected tales by the Brothers Grimm will indicate in the first instance a return to the Victorian gift-book format linked to a revival of nineteenth-century Grimm illustration and, in the second, innovation that exemplifies the intricate international dimension of contemporary publishing.

A curious hybrid: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

  • 15 For a detailed account of adaptation and censorship in nineteenth-century translations into English (...)
  • 16 For instances of censorship see David Blamires, Telling Tales: The impact of Germany on English Chi (...)

7My first example draws on the traditions outlined in the opening paragraphs of this essay and requires a brief but essential reminder that even in the case of translations directly from the German, illustrators of British editions of the tales do not work with the text as written by the Grimms. The filtering of plot and narrative, or even radical abridgement and censorship in the course of translation, may affect the tone and possibly the content of artwork15. Does the princess invite the frog into her bed in English versions of “The Frog Prince”? Do the sisters in translations of “Aschenputtel” suffer mutilation and bleed into their stockings? Are their eyes pecked out with neat but terrifying symmetry at the close of the tale? Such moments, of potential interest to an artist, are omitted from a number of English-language versions, so that illustrators may be working with a censored or otherwise altered text16.

  • 17 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, London, Penguin, 2012.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 1.
  • 19 Only the frontispiece illustration of a fireside storytelling session is missing.

8Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, a handsome volume published in 2012 by Puffin Books (the Penguin children’s imprint), seems to have undergone an even more radical procedure, namely a translation bypass17. Its unsigned preface makes the bizarre claim that the stories are “reproduced in their original form – exactly as the Brothers Grimm had written them”, implying that no act of translation has taken place18. The tales are, in fact, exactly as translator Edgar Taylor and his assistant David Jardine wrote them, since the text, with the exception of an ideologically motivated title change from “The Jew in the Bush” to “The Miser in the Bush”, is a republication of the 1948 Puffin paperback edition of the 1823 translation, illustrated by Cruikshank. As the preface suggests, this new hardback version of a paperback that has remained in print for over seventy years has a dependable cultural pedigree, both in the authenticity of an original Grimms’ text that allegedly sidesteps the translation process, and in the reproduction of almost all of Cruikshank’s series of etchings19. To attract modern audiences, however, Puffin has also commissioned colour plates from six of the UK’s leading children’s book illustrators: Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Emma Chichester Clark, Oliver Jeffers, Helen Oxenbury and Axel Scheffler.

  • 20 Mrs. Ward, A World of Wonders Revealed by The Microscope: a book for young students, London, Groomb (...)

9A third element in this mixture of early nineteenth- and twenty-first-century artwork emerges in the decorative additions of a seventh contemporary artist. Sarah Jane Coleman is credited with the “cover and page border illustrations”, in other words the embellishment of the cover and chapter headings, as well as the reverse of colour plates and endpapers, with a pattern of entwined leaves, birds, insects, broken hearts and centrally placed death heads. Coleman’s work takes its cue from the decorative arts of the Victorian period, since ornamental binding and gilding of this kind is characteristic of the later nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century gift book, often published in the period before Christmas. The binding of Mrs. Ward’s A World of Wonders of 1858, with its flowers and tendrils incised in gold, offers a point of comparison, and another is the repeat motif of birds on endpapers in the Puffin edition of Grimm’s tales which echoes “Strawberry thief”, one of the most iconic textile and wallpaper designs by late nineteenth-century artist William Morris20.

  • 21 This and the following quotation are taken from Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, op. cit. p. 1.

10It is not surprising that this mixture of old and new, the blending of early nineteenth-century text and etchings with both Victorian-style decoration and contemporary colour plates, does not result in a unified whole. This is a production driven by a date that concentrated publishing minds, namely the 2012 anniversary of the first edition of the Grimms’ tales. Both the publication details in the front matter with the rubric “Published in this anniversary edition 2012” and the blurb on the back cover make Puffin’s celebratory intention clear. A decision was made to dust off the existing edition of the Taylor-Cruikshank collection, to commission well-known artists to add one colour illustration each, and to present the ornate volume as, to quote the preface, a “beautiful treasury”21. A two-fold marketing strategy emphasizes in turn historical pedigree and contemporary artwork, and the blurb on the back cover draws attention to both: “This beautiful edition celebrates the 200th anniversary of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s original fairy tales. With exquisite illustrations by award-winning artists”. Telescopic glimpses of these new illustrations appear on the front cover too, where the Grimm Brothers share equal billing with the contemporary German writer and illustrator Cornelia Funke. An introduction to a new or revived publication by a familiar and trusted children’s author is a tried and tested selling point. The name of George Cruikshank, instigator of Grimm illustrations and contributor of twenty etchings to this volume, is missing from the cover; only on the title page is he credited with “Original illustrations”.

11Recently created images sit awkwardly within a reprint of Cruikshank’s seminal visual realization of the tales. Four of the contemporary artists interpret tales that Cruikshank did not illustrate in their own characteristic styles: Raymond Briggs’ “Tom Thumb” exemplifies the delicate use of coloured pencil found in his The Snowman and Father Christmas, just as Helen Oxenbury’s vision of “Ashputtel” is reminiscent of her illustrated version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The placement of these plates within the volume is somewhat idiosyncratic. Axel Scheffler’s princess and frog only put in an appearance in a forested landscape reminiscent of The Gruffalo after two intervening stories, and Quentin Blake’s fox ride from “The Golden Bird”, which so closely echoes Cruikshank’s illustration of the same tale as to be redundant, arrives in the volume a whole tale after the one to which it belongs. Anomalies of this kind may result from technical issues in the production of a book conceived in haste, but the combination of the disparate styles of single images from six artists with Cruikshank’s etchings, together with the lack of attention paid to artistic unity or illustrative rhythm, results in a publication that is a far cry from one artist’s imaginative interpretation in the manner of an Arthur Rackham or Walter Crane. Nonetheless, Taylor’s translation and Cruikshank’s vision have not lost their charm and, given the prestigious artists involved, each colour plate is a visual feast in its own right. Production values – high quality paper, binding, layout and design – all meet the publisher’s aim of producing a volume to savour.

  • 22 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illus. Arthur Rackham, New York, Race Po (...)
  • 23 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illus. Arthur Rackham, London, Egmont, 2013.

12The Puffin volume, then, with its “original” Cruikshank illustrations, takes its place within the current nostalgic strand of Grimm's illustration, whereby vintage artwork is reissued to attract adult collectors or those purchasing gifts for children. A number of editions of Arthur Rackham’s nineteenth-century illustrations have appeared recently: one from Race Point Publishing in the US with slipcover in 201322, and in the same year the handsomely produced Grimm’s Fairy Tales with Arthur Rackham’s illustrations from Egmont UK in its Heritage series of the “most famous titles in European literature”23. No doubt the 2012 anniversary played its part in the genesis of these publications too. A much smaller outfit, the Pook Press media company based in Bristol, styling itself as a “Publisher of Vintage Illustrated Fairy Tales, Folk Tales and Children’s Classics” has in recent years produced no fewer than eighteen editions of Grimm’s tales with illustrations by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century artists including Rackham. Terms such as “heritage”, “vintage” and “original” attached to many of these gift book and collectors’ editions reflect publishers’ awareness of an adult investment in the future of the cultural icon that is Grimm’s tales, and a desire to extend into the twenty-first century the resonance of the best-known Grimm illustrations.

A tangled yarn: Philip Pullman, Shaun Tan and The Singing Bones

13Where, then, can true innovation in the illustration of collections (as opposed to single-tale editions) of Grimm’s tales in the twenty-first century be found in the UK? My second example represents a re-vision of tales by the Grimms that is radical both in terms of medium and in the attempt to remove extraneous detail and refine each tale to its core. The artist is Australian; the text that was his inspiration a British retelling of selected Grimm’s tales, and the publisher British – yet the nucleus of this publication originates in Germany. Research into twenty-first-century illustration of Grimm’s tales in the UK uncovers many such transnational publication histories in an age of international conglomerates and their locally based subsidiaries and imprints. Artists, too, often work internationally rather than simply for publishers in their country of origin or domicile. International exchange in the publishing industry has, by the twenty-first century, become so common that it can be difficult to discover the exact provenance of a given illustrated Grimm volume, and almost impossible to identify a thoroughbred British illustrated edition.

  • 24 Philip Pullman, Grimm Tales for Young and Old, London, Penguin, 2012.
  • 25 Ibid., p. xiii.

14Shaun Tan’s illustration of the retellings of the Grimms’ tales by celebrated British author Philip Pullman is an instructive example of just such an intricate international history. Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old, another publication from Penguin in the anniversary year of 2012 is, as Pullman explained in a personal e-mail communication, a series of rewritten tales based on a “triangulation” among existing translations by Jack Zipes, Ralph Manheim, David Luke and D. L. Ashliman, with the 1857 edition of the tales in German open on Pullman’s desk as a further point of reference24. Pullman’s stated intention in his introduction to retell the “best and most interesting” tales in “a version that was as clear as water” therefore draws on direct translations to narrate afresh, rather than reshape or simplify, the Grimms’ text25. In the same introduction Pullman expresses his personal response to the tales noting, for example, the lack of interior life in characters that are often known by their occupation or social position. This leads him to an arresting comment on visualisation:

  • 26 Ibid., p. xiv.

the most fitting representation of fairy-tale characters seems to me to be found not in any of the beautifully illustrated editions of Grimm that have been published over the years, but in the little cardboard cut-out figures that come with the toy theatre. They are flat, not round26.

One-dimensional figures of this kind, Pullman argues, adopt poses communicating “intense activity or passion”.

  • 27 Philip Pullman, Grimms Märchen. Mit Bildern von Shaun Tan, trans. Martina Tichy, Hamburg, Aladin Ve (...)
  • 28 Shaun Tan, The Singing Bones: Art inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2015.
  • 29 Shaun Tan, The Singing Bones: Art inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales, London, Walker Studio, 2016.
  • 30 Shaun Tan, Singende Knochen. Inspiriert von den Märchen der Brüder Grimm, Hamburg, Aladin Verlag, 2 (...)

15Pullman’s 2012 collection is not illustrated, but his vision of the single, expressive figure came to fruition – albeit initially in three rather than two dimensions – in the German translation of his retellings. Publisher Klaus Humann, founder of the German Aladin Verlag known for high quality children’s publishing, approached Australian illustrator Shaun Tan to create a cover and artwork for a German edition of Pullman’s volume. The result is a series of striking sculptures photographed in Martina Tichy’s German translation of Pullman’s text, Grimms Märchen; Mit Bildern von Shaun Tan, published in 201327. In the first stage of a final double twist, Australian publisher Allen and Unwin issued an edition of Tan’s sculptures as The Singing Bones: Art inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales in 2015 with twenty-five additional sculptures to stories chosen by Tan, who was by now hooked on the project28. In the Australian edition, however, brief captions and summaries of tales abridged from existing translations by Jack Zipes replace Pullman’s retellings. In 2016, Walker Books issued this same collection of images and plot summaries in the UK under their prestigious Walker Studio imprint29. Finally, in a return to its origins, the volume also appeared in Germany in the same year as Singende Knochen. Inspiriert von den Märchen der Brüder Grimm, in this case with German captions from the 1857 edition of the Grimms’ tales30.

  • 31 David Hockney, Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. With original etchings, trans. Heiner Basti (...)

16What emerges from this convoluted tale is a picture of modern international publishing dependent on entrepreneurial and imaginative élan, in this case Klaus Humann’s inspired choice of illustrator. The reduction of prose text to captions and plot summaries during the to and fro between German and English-language editions indicates a seismic shift towards the artist, so that a volume originating as an illustrated version of Pullman’s retellings becomes a picture book by Shaun Tan. An artist of Tan’s calibre, with an international reputation arising from picturebooks for children and adults – his visual representation of depression in The Red Tree (2001) or the painful process of integration for migrants in The Arrival (2006) are notable examples – has become the selling point for what began as an illustrated collection of tales and quickly developed into a personal aesthetic project. After completion of the initial assignment, Tan’s immersion in the Grimm tales developed its own momentum. Sculptures, including those based on Tan’s own selection of tales, were exhibited in the No Vacancy gallery in Melbourne in 2015 to coincide with the launch of The Singing Bones. Thus Tan enters the realm of fine art in an undertaking that echoes David Hockney’s Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with original etchings of 1970, or British-Portuguese artist Paula Rego’s disturbing “Red Riding Hood” series of paintings of 200331.

  • 32 Walker Books YouTube, Shaun Tan, 19 August (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yiuho7031xE) and 2 Sept (...)
  • 33 Afterword to The Singing Bones, 2016, op. cit. p. 201.
  • 34 Ibid. p. 201.
  • 35 “Primal” is the term used by Neil Gaiman to describe Tan’s sculptures in his Introduction to the Wa (...)
  • 36 “A book that particularly captured my imagination while working on The Singing Bones was The Harry (...)

17At first, however, Tan was hesitant to take on the commission. He had considered illustrating Grimm’s tales in the past, but in both a promotional video and an interview32 expresses his agreement with Pullman that the tales do not lend themselves to illustration, citing in an Afterword to The Singing Bones the omission of the dark side of the tales in the “sanitized and decorative” editions that he knew as a child33. Moreover, when growing up “along the semi-arid coastal plain of Western Australia”, Tan found it difficult to connect with medieval European villages and forests34. In order to overcome this resistance and to capture the “primal”35 content of Grimm’s tales, he decided to revert to a childhood love of modelling and carving in clay and soapstone, and to act upon his admiration for Inuit stone carvings as well as pre-Columbian clay figurines seen during trips to Canada and Mexico36. According to Tan’s Afterword, these figurines exhibit “a well-considered marriage of earthy materials – stone and clay that never pretend to be anything but stone and clay – infused with weightless and magical ideas”, each one in the form of

  • 37 Afterword, The Singing Bones, op. cit., p. 203.

a fossilized narrative, worn by multiple “tellings” into a comfortable shape that often fits nicely in the hand, something I tried to achieve with my own sculptures, which are generally about the size and weight of an orange37.

18In an interview on Australian radio Tan states that if he had to use just one word to describe his Grimm sculptures it would be “elemental”38.

19Clay, for example, is itself of the earth and resists detail, enabling Tan to alter his customary illustrative style to one more in tune with the tales: “I’m a fussy artist and I don’t like that and I want to be more spontaneous and do work that’s more raw”39. By paring down and sandpapering these small figures – between 6 cm and 40 cm in height – and through the use of “blunt fingers and thumbs” as key tools, Tan has distilled each tale down to its essence and achieved what he calls the bone-like structure of the tales, hence the choice of the book’s title40. In his interpretation of “The Three Spinners”, for example, where each of the three women is reduced to one salient and memorable feature in the text – a broad flat foot, a large lower lip hanging down over the chin, and an immense thumb – Tan condenses all three into one grotesque figure.

  • 41 Afterword, The Singing Bones, op. cit., p. 203.
  • 42 All comments on the use of the colour red are taken from the Walker Books YouTube interview with Sh (...)

20In addition to basic materials such as soapstone, air-drying clay and papier mâché, Tan has added minimal but significant detail using: “aluminium foil, wax, wood, iron and bronze patina, gold leaf, wire, paper, string, fabric, sand, sugar and salt (for watery ripples), pepper, rice, dragées, nails, sticks, rocks, berries, blossoms and leaves”41. Nails become bristles in “Hans My Hedgehog”; ripples of sand surround the frog emerging from the well in “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich”, and dragées in unthreatening pastel shades entice Hansel and Gretel in the very first sculpture Tan completed. Moreover, a sparing use of colour within a subdued palette of greys, browns and off-white in clay or soapstone draws attention to salient aspects of individual tales: the dragées in “Hansel and Gretel” to the seductive ploys of a witch, and bright red berries in “All Fur” to elements of fear and danger. Tan uses red judiciously “for blood and passion and fire”, so that red is prominent in the creation of the jealous Queen in “Snow White”, “the one singular image” representing the crux of the tale: without her, Tan asserts, there would be no narrative. Since the Grimms revel in describing the queen’s “psychotic” rage, Tan’s representation is a red, faceted carving of a head with hard-set mouth and spiked crown, the whole expressive of incandescent red-faced rage42. Rumpelstiltskin, too, is a manic figure painted entirely in red, displaying an anger that ultimately tears him apart.

  • 43 Walker Books YouTube, 19 August 2016.
  • 44 Walker Books YouTube interview with Shaun Tan, 2 September 2016.
  • 45 Tan has indicated, for example, that the nails are likely to fall from the back of Hans My Hedgehog (...)

21Tan has claimed that the Grimm endeavour is the most enjoyable project he has ever worked on because it enabled him to return to a childhood love of modelling43. After all, Tan claims, “a sculpture is a thing, a picture is a representation of a thing”44 – even though these sculptures first existed to be photographed, are fragile and may have a limited life span45. Tan’s creation in The Singing Bones of 75 sometimes startling, sometimes haunting and abiding images inspired by the Grimm texts, represents an entirely new direction in his illustrative career. One illustrator engaging at length with an extensive selection of texts by the Grimms is a modern rarity, although Tan’s Australian publisher moved the production away from Pullman’s version and the additional tales Tan chose, towards a volume focussed on Tan’s images with brief captions by Zipes. This edition, replicated in the UK and Germany, represents a refashioning according to the perceived demands of a contemporary market that privileges the visual.

Conclusions

  • 46 Walker Books YouTube interview, 19 August 2016.

22Placing Cruikshank’s and Tan’s visions of Rumpelstiltskin side-by-side, it is possible to detect a faint echo of Cruikshank in the overall shape of Tan’s figure. Moreover, terms such as “caricature”, “grotesque”, or the phrase “horror and humour” that Tan applies to folk art, could be applied to a number of the Grimm images created by these two artists46. Both share a touch of the macabre and both, despite a separation of almost three hundred years, make a contribution to the visual legacy of the Grimms’ tales in the twenty-first century in the UK. That legacy comprises three distinct strands. The first, dominant in terms of volume and economic return, is the relentless tide of homogenised children’s culture within the global book and media markets that sweeps in its wake many illustrations of tales by the Grimms. Mass-produced, single-tale picture book retellings and novelty books would certainly qualify as the kind of “sanitized and decorative” illustration that both Philip Pullman and Shaun Tan believe denies the dark passion of their human content.

23A second strand of post-millennium publishing concerns the market for heritage classics, a development exemplified in children’s publishing by the Puffin anniversary edition that uneasily combines the work of Cruikshank with that of contemporary artists. As always with the Grimms’ tales, the question of child or adult audience arises in relation to gift and vintage editions: some appeal to adult collectors and those nostalgic for childhood reading pleasures, whereas others, like the Puffin edition, are designed as children’s gifts. Editions of this type also play a role, alongside many other children’s classics, in the transmission of what is regarded as essential cultural knowledge to the next generation.

24Finally, innovation and re-creation also attract readers and viewers from different age groups. Retellings and the fusion of fairy tale elements into new creations in the manner of single-tale author-artists such as Anthony Browne or the partnership of Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell attract picturebook experts and scholars, as well as discerning adult mediators who introduce them to young readers. Similarly, editions resulting from the cross-cultural travels of Philip Pullman’s retellings as envisaged by Shaun Tan target broad as well as specialist audiences. Tan’s illustrated German version of Pullman’s retellings is likely to appeal to young and old, whereas the expanded set of captioned photographs issued in Australia, the UK and Germany are targeted – at least according to the UK marketing of the Walker Studio imprint as “books for book lovers” – at bibliophile adults. In the latter versions the text of the Grimms’ tales shrinks, and the artist once again becomes the “draw” in commercial terms.

25This snapshot of artists’ interpretations of Grimm’s tales published in the UK since the year 2000 highlights the complex international web of children’s publishing: publication of the tales encompasses mass and niche markets for many different communities of readers of all ages. Illustrated editions of multiple tales, whether vintage or innovative, do still appear to have a place within this fragmented industry and, fortunately, it is still possible for the inspired insight of a publisher, a Klaus Humann or a Charles Baldwyn, to initiate the new directions in Grimm illustration that have always marked its history. For artists across the globe, the allure of Grimm’s tales is inexhaustible, but it takes the creative flair of a publisher to realise that imaginative potential.

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Notes

1 See Jennifer Schacker, National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003, p. 14.

2 For a full account of the connection between Taylor, Baldwyn and Cruikshank see Schacker, ibid., p. 25.

3 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Popular Stories, translated from the Kinder and Haus Märchen, collected by M.M. Grimm, from the Oral Tradition, trans. Edgar Taylor, illus. George Cruikshank, London, C. Baldwyn, 1823. Edgar Taylor was assisted by his friend David Jardine.

4 See reference to the letter from Wilhelm Grimm to Berlin publisher Georg Andreas Reimer in Heinz Zirnbauer, “Grimms Märchen mit englischen Augen: Eine Studie zur Entwicklung der Illustration von Grimms Märchen in englischer Übersetzung von 1823 bis 1970”, in Gebrüder Grimm Gedenken Band 2, Marburg, N. G. Elwert, 1975, p. 203.

5 Jennifer Schacker, National Dreams, op. cit. Schacker’s remarks on the commodification of the Grimms’ tales follow extensive research on English-language editions of the tales in the nineteenth century, for example Martin Sutton, The Sin Complex: A critical study of English versions of the Grimms’ “Kinder- und Hausmärchen”, Kassel, Schriften der Brüder Grimm Gesellschaft, 1996.

6 Despite its title, the series Grimms’ Goblins included stories from sources other than the Grimms. Grimms’ Goblins, illus. Hablot K. Browne, London, George Vickers, 1860 onwards.

7 Betsy Hearne, “Booking the Brothers Grimm: Art, Adaptations and Economics”, in James M. Mc Glathery, L. Danielson, Ruth E. Lorbe and Selma K. Richardson (eds), The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1991, p. 220.

8 Sarah Gibb, Rapunzel, text by Alison Sage, London, Harper Collins, 2010.

9 Ailie Busby, Hansel and Gretel, London, Ladybird Books, 2014.

10 Dan Taylor, Rapunzel, London, Campbell Books, 2016.

11 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Usborne Illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales, retold by Ruth Brocklehurst and Gillian Doherty, illus. Raffaella Ligi, London, Usborne, 2010.

12 Beth Woollvin, Little Red, London, Two Hoots, 2016.

13 Anthony Browne, Into the Forest, London, Walker Books, 2004.

14 Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, The Sleeper and the Spindle, London, Bloomsbury, 2014.

15 For a detailed account of adaptation and censorship in nineteenth-century translations into English of Grimms’ tales see Martin Sutton, The Sin Complex, op. cit.

16 For instances of censorship see David Blamires, Telling Tales: The impact of Germany on English Children’s Books 1780-1918, Cambridge, Open Book Publishers, 2009.

17 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, London, Penguin, 2012.

18 Ibid., p. 1.

19 Only the frontispiece illustration of a fireside storytelling session is missing.

20 Mrs. Ward, A World of Wonders Revealed by The Microscope: a book for young students, London, Groombridge and Sons, 1858.

21 This and the following quotation are taken from Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, op. cit. p. 1.

22 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illus. Arthur Rackham, New York, Race Point Publishing, 2013.

23 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illus. Arthur Rackham, London, Egmont, 2013.

24 Philip Pullman, Grimm Tales for Young and Old, London, Penguin, 2012.

25 Ibid., p. xiii.

26 Ibid., p. xiv.

27 Philip Pullman, Grimms Märchen. Mit Bildern von Shaun Tan, trans. Martina Tichy, Hamburg, Aladin Verlag, 2013.

28 Shaun Tan, The Singing Bones: Art inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2015.

29 Shaun Tan, The Singing Bones: Art inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales, London, Walker Studio, 2016.

30 Shaun Tan, Singende Knochen. Inspiriert von den Märchen der Brüder Grimm, Hamburg, Aladin Verlag, 2016.

31 David Hockney, Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. With original etchings, trans. Heiner Bastian, London, Petersburg Press in association with Kasmin Gallery, 1970.

32 Walker Books YouTube, Shaun Tan, 19 August (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yiuho7031xE) and 2 September 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaCtfhvdFIQ), both accessed 9 January 2019.

33 Afterword to The Singing Bones, 2016, op. cit. p. 201.

34 Ibid. p. 201.

35 “Primal” is the term used by Neil Gaiman to describe Tan’s sculptures in his Introduction to the Walker Books edition of The Singing Bones (2016).

36 “A book that particularly captured my imagination while working on The Singing Bones was The Harry Winrob Collection of Inuit Sculpture. My own work is a pale shadow of the powerful narrative sculptures surveyed in this catalogue.” Shaun Tan, Afterword to The Singing Bones, 2016, op. cit., p. 197.

37 Afterword, The Singing Bones, op. cit., p. 203.

38 ABC radio, 28 September 2015, URL: www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/the...by-shaun-tan/6808422, accessed 10 January 2019.

39 Walker Books YouTube interview with Shaun Tan, 2 September 2016.

40 ABC radio, 28 September 2015, URL: www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/the...by-shaun-tan/6808422.

41 Afterword, The Singing Bones, op. cit., p. 203.

42 All comments on the use of the colour red are taken from the Walker Books YouTube interview with Shaun Tan, 2 September 2016.

43 Walker Books YouTube, 19 August 2016.

44 Walker Books YouTube interview with Shaun Tan, 2 September 2016.

45 Tan has indicated, for example, that the nails are likely to fall from the back of Hans My Hedgehog at any time (Walker Books YouTube interview with Shaun Tan, 2 September 2016).

46 Walker Books YouTube interview, 19 August 2016.

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Gillian Lathey, « Nostalgia, novelty and innovation: the illustration of Grimms’ tales in the UK in the twenty-first century », Strenæ [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2021, consulté le 17 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/6648 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.6648

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Gillian Lathey

Roehampton University

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