Picture Perfect

I believe in original illustrations. In spite of owning The Complete Sherlock Holmes, I also keep a large volume of selected Holmes stories because it contains the original illustrations from Strand. Likewise, I've always been faithful to the Tenniel illustrations of Lewis Carroll's Alice books. You can't beat Alice's sharp little face as drawn by Tenniel, or the broad, bad-tempered lower lip of the Duchess.


Recently I came across a two-volume hardcover boxed set of the Alice books illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. And, and, and...ooh they are pretty! So pretty that I bought them (used for $20!) and am currently drooling over them. The colors are vivid without being garish, the expressions are whimsical without being ridiculous, and Alice herself, though almost too pretty, is saved by the addition of a pair of practical white tennis shoes. Okay, not period-appropriate, but definitely true to the Alice spirit.

Lately I've been realizing how much I value illustrations. I keep an "abridged for children" (horrible idea) version of Peter Pan around simply because I love Greg Hildebrandt's photo-realistic fairies. Neil Gaiman's lovely fairy tale Stardust is so much prettier with the languid Charles Vess illustrations. Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men becomes even funnier when every page is crawling with Stephen Player's vulgar, squashed-face Pictsies thumbing their noses at you from the corners. And what would Michael Chabon's The Final Solution be without the puzzling, word-bending drawings?

I'll be keeping this in mind at the book sale next month...