Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gregor, Meet Judith... and Trina

Cover of Gregor the OverlanderI've been enjoying Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander series, although when I started the first book, I was a tad unimpressed.

The story's central conceit (real-world young person suddenly travels to parallel fantasy world where s/he must save the day) is well-traveled by writers like Madeleine L'Engle, Eva Ibbotson, C.S. Lewis, Norton Juster and Jay Williams. I even wrote such a novel myself when I was 15. But I have to admit Gregor and his talking animal friends grew on me pretty quickly and I would recommend the books.

One such story that's not so well known is Ruth Nichols' A Walk Out of the World, published in 1969 and written when she was about 18.

Cover of A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols
A girl named Judith walks through the woods near her house and gradually realizes she is in a different land. Not only that, she finds out she is a long-lost descendant of the royal family and her destiny is to overthrow the usurper who has ruled for 500 years.

Standard enough in many ways, but what sets this book apart is the pen and ink illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman.

Drawing of a dwarf with long beard
I'm not sure if I already knew about Hyman's work when I picked up the book. I definitely used to choose books to read specifically because she had done the cover art, but it may have been this book that started me on that habit.

Drawing of a thin woman standing in profile with cascading hair bound by tiny braids, one braid tucks through her belt
What is it about her illustration style that is so appealing? The way she shaped hands and the many details are part of it. I was particularly obsessed with the hair on this woman.

Drawing of a male and female dwarf, many details in the drawing
This drawing of a dwarf couple...

Drawing of an eagle attacking a group of riders on horseback
...and this of an eagle...

Drawing of ugly trollish creatures with animal carcasses hanging in the background
...and this one of Nichols' evil trollish "kobalds" were so striking to me at the time that I later copied them in a piece of my own.

Like Nichols, I had read the Lord of the Rings as a teenager and felt inspired to emulate it. One manifestation was this illustrated collage to accompany Tolkien's ring poem:

Circular artwork with the Ring as a frame and the Ring poem in the center, surrounded by spot illustrations of a dwarf, eagle, orc and other Tolkien inventions
(Yes, those are four pieces of poster board taped together and the medium is colored Flair pens.)

But more to the point, notice the details that are lifted directly from Hyman's work:

Closeup of the eagle
The nasty eagles of Nichols' book became good eagles in Tolkien's world.

Closeup of the orc and dwarf
And Hyman's kobald turned into an orc, while her dwarf became Gimli, son of Gloin.

I felt guilty about this piracy for years, especially if anyone complimented the collage. But I've realized more recently that it's common and even encouraged for young artists to copy their betters, to learn proportion and technique, so I'm not ashamed anymore.

Thanks to Gregor for reminding me of Judith and Trina, and of my own teen-aged fascination with otherworlds.

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