Illustrations – Fairies, Myths and Magic

4 Jun

Illustrations by Warwick Goble, Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac – a rather cheerful topic on this ‘damp and lonely Thursday‘.

My mother used to read to me every night when I was little, not only those common children’s books such as Grimm’s fairy tales, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking or Alice in Wonderland, but all sorts of myths and legends: Native American myths and legends, Persian fairy tales, stories from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, and tales from Scandinavian and Slavic folklore. I’ll forever be grateful for the time she spent reading to me and the variety of cultures she introduced me to because all of these things made me an open-minded person that I am. Later I read The Lords of the Rings by myself and entered the magical world of Arhurian legends, but it all started from there: me sitting in my mother’s lap and listening with excitement to her imitations of the characters’ voices. ‘You only have to read the lines, They’re scribbly black and everything shines.‘ (Syd Barrett) I think the best thing you can do for children is to read to them.

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”- C. S. Lewis

All three artists were book illustrators, mostly remembered for their magical illustrations of fairy tales and children’s stories. Although I love all of their illustrations, I must say that Warwick Goble’s work appeals to me the most because he specialised in Japanese and Indian themes. Different cultures always excited me. I like his usage of sombre colours and a mystic mood of his night scenes, not to mention the beautiful lotus flowers, fairies and interesting clothes.

Warwick Goble - Elfen & Boeken1909. Warwick Goble 4 1909. Warwick Goble 5 1910. The peony lantern. Warwick Goble, from Green Willow and other Japanese fairy tales, by Grace James, London She took up the jewel in her hand, left the palace, and successfully reached the upper world. A Warwick Goble illustration. Sita finds Rama among the Lotus blooms - Warwick Goble, Indian Myth and Legend Warwick Goble - Cancee and the Falcon, Warwick Goble

"Do as you list, I will be ever known your thrall" - The Complete Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1912)

“Do as you list, I will be ever known your thrall” – The Complete Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1912)

Warwick Goble ~ Enchanted Princess Warwick Goble 10 Warwick Goble 12 Warwick Goble, The Water Babies Warwick Goble 13

Arthur Rackham was a well-known British illustrator, most active in the first three decades of the twentieth century. I particularly like his illustrations of Alice in Wonderland (1907) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1908). The first illustration you can see down below is my favourite ever depiction of Alice; I just love all those cards flying around. I must say that many of Rackham’s illustrations have a sinister mood, Pandora’s Box for example, or his depiction of trees and those maidens with their hair floating on the water.

1907. Alice in Wonderland - by Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham Fairy Illustrations Pandora

Pandora’s Box


Arthur Rackham Alice in Wonderland Arthur Rackham Watercolor, pen & ink

Arthur Rackham - illustration from 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream' 1907. Elena by Arthur Rackham (from 'A Midsummer's Night Dream) 1908. A midsummer night’s dream by Arthur Rackham 1910s Beautiful Arthur Rackham illustration for A Midsummer Night's Dream 1907. Arthur Rackham - Alice in Wonderland 2  ‘A midsummer night’s dream’ by William Shakespeare Arthur Rackham Illustration by Arthur Rackham 6 Illustration by Arthur Rackham 3 Illustration by Arthur Rackham 1 Undine is a fairy-tale novella by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué illustrated by Arthur Rackham in 1909.

Edmund Dulac was a French-born but British naturalised magazine and book illustrator. As soon as he arrived in London at the age of twenty-two, he was commissioned to illustrate Jane Eyre and other novels by Bronte sisters. He went on to become a prolific artist with a diverse oeuvre, having illustrated all sorts of themes, from The Arabian Nights (1907) to Edgar Allan Poe’ poems in 1912. I like his illustrations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1909), and, as you can see below, he beautifully painted the sea in his illustrations of Little Mermaid; castle under the sea, the waves – it’s all just the way I imagined it.

Night, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam - illustration by Edmund Dulac

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1909)

Edmund Dulac Illustration 4 Edmund Dulac Illustration 7 Edmund Dulac Illustration 9 Edmund Dulac Illustration 3 Edmund Dulac, Beauty and the Beast Edmund Dulac Annabel Lee (from Edgar Allan Poe's poem) 1912 Ye elves to hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves ~ Elves and Fairies, illustration for The Tempest, by Edmund Dulac. The Princess and the Pea', illustrated by Edmund Dulac Stories from the Arabian Nights, 1911 Illustrations by Edmund Dulac The Little Mermaid – illustrator Edmund DulacEdmund Dulac - The Nightingale

And just one more illustration from the similar time period, ‘The Court of Faerie’ (1906) by Thomas Maybank

1906. The Court of Faerie (1906) by Thomas Maybank

Isn’t it a shame that modern illustrations aren’t as interesting or as imaginative as they once were?

7 Responses to “Illustrations – Fairies, Myths and Magic”

  1. Elliot 4th Jun 2015 at 4:54 pm #

    A very good post as usual, I was not aware of Warwick Goble before, his illustrations are quite oriental and each one you have shown seem to be a little different in tone from each other. I adore Arthur Rackham and in fact own a first edition of the first volume of Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ which I think contains some of his finest work, largely because the material of the story is rich and magical – it is one of my most prized possessions. Dulac is good, he uses a larger colour palette than Rackham and uses bolder lines, giving his work a more eastern feel, but I think he lacks the mystery and unsettling atmosphere of Rackham. I have to disagree with you about modern illustrators not being as good though (sorry), I think that the style has changed (like most fashions) and also the materials and techniques used but I think that in terms of talent and imagination it is still just as good – a great example is Chris Riddell, who has great atmosphere in his work and a unique style – he reminds me of Rackham in some ways.


    • Byron's Muse 4th Jun 2015 at 5:57 pm #

      I’m glad that Warwick Goble was an interesting discovery for you, as much as Chris Riddell’s illustrations were for me today – I’ve not seen them before and I agree that they are very fine indeed. Actually, they reminded me of Tim Burton. Maybe I was unfair about the modern illustrators, but actually I had those Disney princess illustrations and such things in mind, I think they’re quite naff. Comparing them to fine works of Warwick or Rackham would be a crime against art!

      Wow, you own the first edition of Rackham’s illustrations, you must be a happy man! Have you reviewed them on your blog? And, speaking of illustrations, what do you think of Edward Gorey’s ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’, I love both the illustrations and the idea behind it.


      • Elliot 4th Jun 2015 at 6:21 pm #

        I quite agree with you about Disney princess illustrations! Chris Riddell is good, I especially like his work in ‘The Edge Chronicles’ series of books (great reads by the way) and ‘The Sleeper and the Spindle’, which I own and which I think you would love – it is a retelling of a classic fairy story with amazing illustrations. I have not reviewed any of my Rackham books on my blog but you have given me an idea for a series of posts so thanks for that! I have just checked out Edward Gorey and they are very good pictures with a brilliantly dark idea, the sort of thing which would be difficult to get published today but people love that it exists, not an idea I would do myself but it is the sort of thing I like.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Byron's Muse 4th Jun 2015 at 6:34 pm #

          Oh, I see that ‘The Sleeper and the Spindle’ is written by Neil Gaiman, then I’ll definitely check it out as I loved ‘Coraline’. Thanks for recommending! And I’m delighted to have given you an idea.


          • Elliot 4th Jun 2015 at 6:37 pm #

            Do you mean the book or the film of ‘Coraline’? I have not yet read the book but the film is one of my favourite films ever, I particularly like stop-motion and that film is one of the best uses of the medium I have watched.


            • Byron's Muse 4th Jun 2015 at 6:44 pm #

              I’ve read the book, it’s not very long, but I preferred the film. It’s brilliant! ‘Coraline’ actually inspired me to write a short story about a black cat and a girl that disappeared, but I never finished it. I was thirteen then so i doubt I’ll ever get to it again.

              You should definitely read the book!

              Liked by 1 person


  1. #AmWriting #thee100s Log 7, Round 3 – nerueru - 28th Apr 2019

    […] been looking at some turn of the century illustrations of mythological stories and faery stories here. That stuff is just questionable looking. I mean all the sad non-Disney ends. Everything was a Dark […]


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