“Nothing Except A Battle Lost Can Be Half so Melancholy as a Battle Won:” Disabled Veterans in Early 19th Century Picture Books

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James Gillray, “The Plumb Pudding in Danger” (1805). The British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger and Napoleon carve up the world, represented as an enormous plum pudding, between them.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the picture book came into its own in England, a period of extraordinary fertility in children’s book publishing dubbed “the dawn of levity” by F. J. Harvey Darton, even though it coincided with the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).   The protracted war with the French cast its shadow over English children’s books nevertheless, although detecting its   presence can be as subtle an exercise as in Jane Austen’s novels.

Of course there were overtly militaristic children’s books such as the school book New Geographical Grammar (1811), in which its author John Evans described preparations supposedly being made in French port towns for the invasion of England. Stirring accounts of martial valor designed to instill the seeds of patriotism and to inspire the desire for military service could be found in The Naval Heroes of Great Britain: or, Accounts of the Lives and Actions of the Distinguished Admirals and Commanders who have Contributed to Confer on Great Britain the Empire of the Ocean (1806).

But there are other books published then which bear out the truth of the Duke of Wellington’s sorrowful observation that the only thing as sad as a battle lost is a battle won.  I can’t remember when I began to notice pictures of disabled veterans  in Regency children’s books, but I only started to jot down all the references.  They drive home the realization that the sight of an old soldier with a cork or wooden leg must have been in England must have been a common one after Waterloo.  Only  an high-born officer like Henry Paget, second earl of Uxbridge could afford a sophisticated prosthetic device to replace a limb shattered on the battlefield.

Some disabled veterans scraped together a living performing on the streets of London.   Billy Waters, an American-born freed slave, who fought in the British forces during the American War of Independence, became something of a local celebrity.  This is one of three pictures of Billy Waters I have found in Cotsen–the other two are in The Cries of London Drawn from Life (1823) and a book of London cries lacking a title page published ca.1821 by J. Bysh.

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Hodgson’s The Cries of London (London: Hodgson & Co., ca. 1824).

Pictures of amputees may be more common in children’s books issued by the Quaker firm of the Dartons and they may be an indication of  pacifist tendencies.  This one from My Real Friend is unusual for showing quite graphically the daily accidental humiliations to which an amputee had to endure.  The passage the picture accompanies follows.

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The title vignette for My Real Friend: or Incidents in Life, Founded on Truth. 2nd ed. corrected (London: W. Darton, 1812). The old soldier’s peg leg has gotten caught in the style.

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Perhaps the most unusual sighting of a disabled veteran I’ve found so far is the frontispiece by R. Stennett for Parlour Amusements; or A New Book of Games and Forfeits (ca. 1820).  It shows a group of children playing the game of “Old Soldier” which is described inside.   One person is supposed to impersonate the impoverished veteran and notice how the boy has improvised a wooden leg from a pair of bellows.   The verse rules are followed with a model dialog between imaginary players to show how the process of questions and answers ought to play out.  4907frontis

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The game of “Old Soldier,” which also goes by the name of “Here Comes an Old Soldier from Botany Bay,” was played for almost a century in the English-speaking world.  Halliwell-Phillipps included it in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (1849) under the title “The Poor Soldier.”   The second edition of Cassell’s Book of In-door Amusements, Card Games, and Fireside Fun described it as old in 1882, but didn’t speculate as to its probable age.  The 1901 volume of the Pennsylvania School Journal recommended “The Game of the Poor, Old Soldier” as an amusing one for small children in 1901, as did Grace Lee Davidson’s 1916 Games and Parties for Children.

This appearance in Parlour Amusements seems to be the earliest recorded and perhaps it is a relic of the Napoleonic Wars. The larger question is to consider what exactly such a game tells us about attitudes towards the disabled veteran during the nineteenth century. Here he seems to be treated simply as a character type that offers a good opportunity for dress up, rather than as a brave soul whose broken body  deserves respect as a symbol of patriotic service to his country.   Whatever its  meaning, the frontispiece of Parlour Amusements, along with the other illustrations shown here, offers a surprising glimpse into the impact of war on civilians.

 

The Wizarding World of Jim Kay: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

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Animage Minerva McGonagall killing time until baby Harry is delivered on p. 2.

I’ve been watching Pottermania unfold since fall 1998, when Bonnie Bernstein, Cotsen’s first Outreach Coordinator, predicted glory for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by a then unknown British woman writer.   I’ve gone back and forth about collecting Harry Potter in depth for Cotsen.  Strictly speaking, the original Scholastic edition didn’t have enough illustrations to be in scope as Mary Grandpre was commissioned to create just chapter and jacket art for it.  Her unpublished color illustrations were only made available recently.

Harry Potter lends itself to full illustration, but it seemed to take a long time to commission this edition.  J. K. Rowling is one of the very few children’s book authors consulted about the choice of illustrator for her works, so she must have been on board when Bloomsbury announced in 2013 that Sorcerer’s Stone would be reissued in 2015 lavishly illustrated by Jim Kay, the 2011 recipient of  the Greenaway Medal for Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. 

Kay’s wizarding world has nothing of Grandpre’s pastel “soft geometry.”  If the publisher wanted to kickstart the creation of a body of contrasting interpretations appealing to different parts of the Harry Potter fan base, Kay was a perfect choice, as he tends towards the dark.  His Gothic-tinged style adds a more contemporary fantasy-sci-fi-horror twist that makes Harry Potter look edgier than it is, although not as unsettling as the imaginary worlds of Mervyn Peake.

With carte blanche to create an indelible sense of place, Kay rises to the occasion in these representations of two key locations: Hogwarts and Diagon Alley.

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View of Hogwarts on the front free endpaper.

There’s none of Hogwarts’s grand thrusting geometry in the whimsical four-page spread of Diagon Alley.  Will Honeyduke’s in Hogsmeade inspire something similarly playful in the colorful, cluttered, surrealistic manner of  Colin Thompson?

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Detail of one of Diagon Alley’s most famous emporiums on p. 64.

Fleshing out the creatures in Hogwarts also plays to Kay’s  artistic strengths–and a peculiar predilection.  Unlike Ron Weasley, Kay does not suffer from arachnophobia.   Here is an elaborate border design about the life-cycle of a moth from George McGavin’s Bugs, the next children’s book Kay illustrated after A Monster Calls.   It makes a nice contrast to the headpiece for chapter 15, “The Forbidden Forest.”

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Detail from “The Life of a Bug” spread.

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Where’s the spider on p. 196? Kay’s curatorial experience at Kew Gardens is evident in the sensitive handling of the leaves.

Rowling doesn’t provide much detail about the inside of the cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive, but Kay draws it as a paradise of spiders, which makes for a pretty nasty bedroom.  Imagine the attention the monstrous Aragog will receive in The Chamber of Secrets…

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Harry at home on p. 16.

Kay’s warty, lumpy, scaly things look as if you could reach out and touch their disgusting bits.  Three illustrations are devoted to the dim mountain troll  and four illustrations of dragons, including an exquisite guide to dragon eggs, the somewhat schematic double-page spread of the Norwegian Ridgeback, and the headpiece of baby Norbert, whose fangs and wickedly curving claws only Rubeus Hagrid could love.

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Little Norbert staring down the reader on p. 183.

All the things that go bump in the night down Hogwarts’ corridors are deliciously menacing, especially the ghosts on pages 94-5 that look like animated three-dimensional x-rays.  The transparent figure of Nearly Headless Nick with the gaping hole above the ruff is gross yet elegant.  His fatuous expression makes him look more pathetic than scary.

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Gryffindor’s ghost, Sir Nicholas Mimsy-Porpington, who bears an unmistakable resemblance to Basil Fawlty on p. 103.

Kay has said that it was critical for him to establish character in the first of the seven-volume fantasy-cum-school-story.  His representations of the flesh-and-blood inhabitants of Rowling’s wizarding world do not hit off their characters quite as  successfully as the magical and macabre ones, but I’m looking forward to see how he develops them in future volumes.

Among the full-page color illustrations is the sumptuous series of portraits, where  Hogwarts’ faculty members are immortalized in the high Northern Renaissance style.  Dumbledore is shown with the signature knitting needles and sherbet lemon candy and McGonagall is resplendent in green velvet (I am counting the portrait of the back of Quirrel’s turbaned head as a double portrait of him and the Dark Lord).  Kay’s models look something like the actors in the films, with the exception of the potions master.   His Snape may disappoint the fans of the late Alan Rickman’s fans. Rickman may have been twenty years older than the character he played, but when he strode away, black robes billowing, or cradled Lily’s body in his arms, it didn’t matter.   Perhaps Kay is still thinking how to put his mark on Harry Potter’s most complicated character.

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The potions master.

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Harry under a Sorting Hat pieced together from fabric scraps too splendid by half on p. 99. If he is afraid of being placed in Slytherin, his expression does not show it.

The portraits of the major characters raise an awkward question about anxiety of influence.  There’s every reason to think that films impress themselves on artists’ imagination the same way Tenniel’s Alice has.  But could Kay be under pressure (spoken or unspoken) to make the characters conform more or less to their film likenesses so as not to ruffle the fan base?. Or is he paying tribute to the many great British actors like Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Imelda Staunton, and Jim Broadbent whose performances as Sirius Black, Teddy Lupin, Dolores Umbridge, and Horace Slughorn are so memorable?

If I were to take issue with an aspect of Kay’s interpretation of Sorcerer’s Stone, it would the handling of the theme of friendship.  Enjoyable as the slapstick pictures for the Privet Drive section are, there could have been fewer, as they are less important overall than scenes where Harry, Ron Hermione, and Draco form the alliances and enmities that play out over the series.  Draco being fitted in his Slytherin robes, with Madame Malkin’s tape measure rising up like a snake poised to strike, brilliantly establishes him as Harry’s antagonist, even without Harry in background.  But with Harry nowhere to be seen in the picture of Draco stealing Neville’s Remembrall, it is a gorgeous fall landscape, not the unfolding of a dramatic rivalry.

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Draco taunting Harry and Neville with the Remembrall high over head on p. 122.

The busy full-color plate of the wizard’s chess board fails to communicate the urgency of Ron, Hermione, and Harry racing to reach the philosopher’s stone before Voldemort.  Instead showing Ron’s cool nerve as he advances  Harry and Hermione across the board, Kay draws a crowd of playing pieces that threaten to crush the children.  To an American, the pieces look more like cocktail lounge tikis than grotesques based on the  Lewis chess set.

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Playing wizard chess on p. 226.

Maybe it was a conscious decision to keep the illustrations featuring two or more people to a minimum, as Kay seems more comfortable drawing posed single figures.  He shows that he can create an emotional encounter between a child and an adult.

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Harry notices Dumbledore after looking into the Mirror of Erised for the third time on p. 173.

Or a child’s sense of embarrassment at being in public with a grown-up who is nice but peculiar.  Perhaps there will be more intimate images like these in the later volumes.

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Harry and Hagrid in the Underground on p. 56.

Sorcerer’s Stone in red paper-covered boards is a nice piece of commercial bookmaking for $39.99.  The atmospheric double-page spread of Harry on platform 9 3/4 is repeated on the dust jacket and the gold foil stamping and embossing on the jacket is more tasteful than tacky.  Two lovely views of Hogwarts appear on the endpapers.   The book opens flat so no text or illustrations disappear into the gutter (caveat: some Amazon customers complained they received copies with damaged or defective bindings).   The heavy coated paper pages has been printed with streaky ink washes and ink splatters to give them a well worn and vaguely medieval look.  Overall the illustrations are rather well printed, although some pictures are not as sharp as the digital previews, according to Potterheads.  There’s even a red ribbon marker and imitation headbands.

The  large trim size allowed for setting the text in two columns which gave a great deal of leeway to the uncredited graphic designer.  Smaller ovoid illustrations are placed between columns, long narrow rectangular images are run across the bottom or down the side of a page, and little square vignettes are tucked in corners.  The two-column format also made it possible to fit the text and 115 illustrations into a 252-page volume measuring 27 x 23 cm. about 1 inch thick (the original edition was 320 pages, 20 cm. tall and an inch thick).

The Kay edition will look grand on a table or on a shelf, but the original Scholastic edition was more reader-friendly.  Devouring the Kay Potter under the covers with a flashlight seems as unlikely as throwing it in a tote for beach reading.  And volumes 4-7 are much longer then the first three, so will the number of illustrations be increased, making it necessary to issue Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows in one stout or two slimmer tomes?

With the demands of producing a new volume every year between 2016 and 2022, let’s hope Kay can keep up the pace and the quality…  This fall I’ll be waiting in line for my copy of Chamber of Secrets.

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The four friends celebrating the Great Hall on p. 245. To be continued!