Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Crock Of Gold Illustrations by Thomas Mackenzie.

Book illustrations which we are exposed to as children retain a lifelong hold over our imaginations. They draw us back because we are remembering not only the images themselves, but the particular quality of how the images appeared to us then - and, in the process, something of how everything appeared, and how different our minds were.  As adults, we appreciate illustrations in a different way - as works of artistic quality, imaginative vigour, and expressions of the individual style and personality of the artist.  As children, we see them simply as frozen moments in a fully-realized world which extends in every spatial and temporal dimension around the borders of the illustration.  In the same way that the prose contains the whole narrative extended in space, the illustrations contain their preceding moments in the notional space of the child's imagination.  The faces of the characters have a peculiar intensity, if for no other reason than that they have been frozen at precisely this moment, be it at the beginnings of their journey, or when its moments of peril and crisis later arise in the ogre's castle or witches hut.

Not all the books we encounter have the same lasting effect on us.  The majority, as with memories in general, reside in the vast, darkened storerooms of our recall - we will know them again immediately when re-encountered, but they are lost until the memory is jogged.  Others seem to be always with us. One book whose illustrations had a massive impact on me as a child was James Stephens' The Crock Of Gold - not really a children's book, but one that was lying around the house.  The illustrations are by Thomas Mackenzie, drafted in after Arthur Rackham passed away.  A large part of the appeal for me lay in the presence of Pan, and the fact that I had to invent a story around the often mysterious images.  To this day, I haven't read the book, although it's something I've been meaning to get around to for ages.  The last two images are my favourites.

Hat-tip to The Golden Age for posting these wonderful images.

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