Thursday, March 6, 2014

Got it right the first time

There are at least three occasions in which a newly published children's book was fortunate enough to stumble across exactly the right illustrator for the first printing--illustrators who gave us what are still the iconic images of the characters of those books.

In 1865, Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published with John Tenniel providing the images: 

And THAT'S what the characters are supposed to look like. Heck, even Batman villain the Mad Hatter was modeled after Tenniel's version. There may be other versions of the characters out there--including some very good ones--but this is what they "really" look like. 

In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with W.W. Denslow doing the illustrations:

In this case, the 1939 movie has pretty much supplanted Denslow's pictures in the consciousness of most of the public. But for those of us familiar with Baum's original books, Denslow provides us with the true likenesses of Dorothy and her friends.

Then came Winnie the Pooh, written by A. A. Milne in 1926. Ernest Shepard let us know what the denizens of the 100 Acre Wood really looked like:

Here's another case where newer versions have probably replaced the original--in this case, the Disney animated versions of these characters are the ones that populate our culture today.

That's kind of too bad. The Disney designs are actually quite good and are a fine fit for the cartoon version of Pooh's world. But that's one of the downsides of how popular culture works--the Disney cartoons (at least the orginal ones) are great. The film of The Wizard of Oz is indeed a classic. And there's nothing wrong with newer and different interpretations of classic characters.

But popular culture has no inbuilt sense of history, does it? If it did, you wouldn't need me around desperately trying to save civilization itself. We tend for focus on the new stuff and sometimes forget how cool (and entertaining and still relevant) the old stuff can be.  It always help to look behind us to make sure that something awesome isn't being abandoned.

Once again, this isn't a condemnation of new versions of characters. That's a good thing. Heck, I'll include a YouTube video below that has a magnificent version of Winnie the Pooh that's completely different from either Shepard's illustrations or the Disney cartoons. But let's all always remember that something can get old but still be worthwhile.

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