Friday, January 18, 2013

Part 3 of Only in a Fairy Tale

Only in a Fairy Tale:

Discerning the Form through the Art of Illustration

Part 3

Flatness of Fairy Tales

In the minds of many today, fairy tales are usually dictated by the Disney versions, the color palette and specific idea of whom each of the character are.  For many, Cinderella is not just any girl, it is Disney’s girl, and the same goes for many of the other fairy tales colonized by Disney. However, in A.S. Byatt’s introduction to Maria Tatar’s annotated Grimm, she states that the original tales have a “discrete, salutary flatness” and that they are “older, simpler and deeper than the individual imagination.” I started to realize that these tales are truly flat, but not in a negative sense.  They are flat in that they are universal, timeless, and they are able to connect to any individual, regardless of who they are.  They do not need to be specific and elaborate, they instead have the ability to reach out and touch the human soul and illuminate truth in a way that lights up the imagination and creates this magical space where the reader or listener is hooked and floods the page with the colors of their own imagination.

Byatt also cites Max Luthi’s description of fairy tales: “an abstract world, full of discrete, interchangeable people, objects, and incidents, all of which are isolated and are nevertheless interconnected, in a kind of web…”  Thus from one tale to the next, princesses and princes, wicked step-mothers and kings, fill the role of their archetypes, but are not unique individuals, and could easily be transplanted between tales. Moreover, the aesthetic of the tales, the colors and imagery, has a certain palette, Luthi says: “red, white, black and the metallic colors of gold and silver and steel.”  This bareness even in terms of color is then typified and exalted by the illustrations of Lisbeth Zwerger.  Here in a faultless flatness she exudes the tension, annoyance, fear, movement, and pulse that fills The Frog Prince. Zwerger is able to wedge her illustrations into the flatness of the fairy tale, her princess could be any girl, what is unique are the emotions she elicits, even in its bareness and simplicity, and the magical space that she creates between word, book, image and reader.

Also, check out Donna's wonderful review of a new Lisbeth Zwerger collection over at "32 Pages"! :


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, and great series of posts!

    1. Thanks Donna!! And you're so welcome :)

  2. Thank you for appreciating the stories told by illustrators, who can shape our vision of the world we've entered (and they created themselves, or via collaboration with other writers) in their books. My favorite in-book nod to an illustration appears in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

    (If you don't know what a Gryphon is, look at the picture.)

    Instead of detailing the appearance of the Gryphon, the author relies upon the illustration to inform the reader.

    More of my ramble/praise of that and other illustrated novels here: