Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The New Calendar

So, a week ago Friday I made it down to the Barnes & Noble in Federal Way, where I'd not been in a while, thinking that it being mid-August there was a good chance they might have next year's Tolkien calendar in.* This year the art is by an artist and fantasy writer who's famous in her own country but practically unknown here: Tove Jansson. I'm not that familiar with Jansson's work, having only read one of the Moomintroll books long ago and thinking at the time that Carol Kendall did that sort of thing better.** But she's apparently one of Finland's best-known and most-translated authors,*** so I shd probably give her work another try.

In any case, her illustrations come from the 1962 Swedish edition of THE HOBBIT,**** heretofore mainly known to people by one illustration from it (wargs dancing in the firelight) having appeared in THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT (p. 153) and by its bizarre depiction of Gollum (who strongly resembles one of Sime's pieces from THE GODS OF PEGANA, but clearly cd never have been of hobbit-kind). Oddly enough, the drawings are both childish (in the sense of clearly-geared-to-a-child-audience), yet also quite dark sometimes bleak. It's an odd combination. On the childish side we have the dwarven musicians, complete with Bombur banging away on his drums; on the more solemn side we have the picture of Lake Town, which is almost Escher-like in its brooding staircases going up and up. Both appear mixed in some drawings, a good example of which being the starving dwarves lost in the forest. All in all it's not an art style I enjoy but it does have the virtue of being distinctive.

--John R.
current reading: BROTHER TO DRAGONS (resumed)

* the nearer B&N nr SouthCenter usually having a slimmer selection, though I did see it there not long afterwards.

**here I'm thinking of A WHISPER OF GLOCKEN and THE GAMMAGE CUP more than the later and lesser THE FIRELINGS

***I haven't been able to find out if she was ethnically a Finn or Swede, just that she was both Swedish-speaking and a lifelong resident of what's now Finland (that is, part of a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland).

****this is not, by the way, the edition that so upset Tolkien (LETTERS.249); that was the original 1947 Swedish edition

1 comment:

David Lenander said...

I remember writing a response to you about Jansson and Kendall, but I think I must have lost it when I tried to post it. Sorry if I posted it to the wrong comment or something.... just don't approve this, then, and let me know where it is. I consider Jansson one of the finest and most important writers for children. Like a few other writers, some of her books are scarcely children's books at all, but it's kind of hard to imagine how someone who hadn't read the earlier books would read or receive the more adult book. I love _Finn Family Moomintroll_, with its story of the Hobgoblin's Hat, and the Hemulen, and all of the other characters, and I loved it when I first read an excerpt in an anthology when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade (same place I read an excerpt from _The Hobbit_, and many other books, such as _the Good Master_ and _Alice_ and so on), and then found the book in the public library. But, it's a story for early and middle grades readers, I think, and probably only a few adult readers will really appreciate it, coming to it later in life, except possibly through their children's eyes. But the stories in the later books are too old for some of the younger readers of the early books like that one. By the time you come to _Tales from Moominvalley_, and especially _Moominvalley in November_, a fabulous meditation on aging and death, it's hard to imagine the third graders who will really appreciate that. I urge you to try at least a couple of the _Tales_, they're just fine stories, perhaps "The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters" or "The Invisible Child," two of my favorites. The latter was adapted to a play at the Children's Theatre Company, back in the 70s or 80s, I believe, though I did not see it. The last time I reread the book, for a Rivendell discussion a year or so back, I found that I particularly liked a couple of other stories, too, some that I had thought a little too much like other stories, her rewrite of Wilde's "The Selfish Giant" as "The Hemulen Who Loved Silence," and "The Last Dragon," I'm finally old enough to understand why she had to retell the same basic story, and that the way she tells it places it in Moominvalley for her readers, and I can still read Wilde's story, too.