Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Caldecott Aesop illustrated by Randolph Caldecott (1883)

This is a "facsimile" of the 1883 edition, with colored illustrations.  Randolph Caldecott's brother Alfred translated the stories.  He was fussy and wanted to translate from the original Greek, but Randolph had already illustrated them, so he had to stick to using English versions.  I only know this because I read the introduction by Michael Patrick Hearn, who I had never heard of before.

 The illustrations in here are kick ass, even if the stories are mostly obscure.  Caldecott and brother first illustrate and tell the original tale, then they have an "application" in which Caldecott illustrates a modern scene (or an 1890s scene) that applies the fable and moral to the (then) present day. For example, "The Fox and the Crow" has the fox charming the cheese out of the crow's mouth in one scene, and in another little vignette, a Gay 90s Casanova charms a mother in to leaving him alone with her daughter.  That was my favorite one, really cute and funny. These are wordless, which makes me want to have a historian of Britain next to me to translate - because I didn't understand half of them.

"The Ass in the Lion's Skin" has an ass dressed up as a lion, and everyone is scared of him - until the lion costume falls off, then everyone returns and beats the crap out of him.  The accompanying picture is of a guy talking in a museum to a group of people - you can tell he's pontificating on something.  In the corner is his coat, and two guys are going through it, and they find a piece of paper with the words "Winckelmann" and "Lessing" on them.  They are German critics and writers (I had to look them up).  I guess the Caldecotts thought they were ass(holes).

Secretly, I liked the one called "The Ass, the Lion and the Cock."  Very Beavis and Butthead of me, I know.

"The Fox Without a Tale" is about a fox without a tale who tries to convince all the other foxes that tails were "ungraceful... a heavy appendage, and quite superfluous."  The other foxes aren't having any of that crap though.  The "application" is a woman - a classic 19th century bluestocking, I'm sure, with glasses on - who tells another group of women "Nonsense, my dears! Husbands are ridiculous things & are quite unnecessary."  Snap!  I can't imagine that was too popular among feminist women of the day!

This is shelved in the children's section of the library, but to be honest, it's not really a children's book at all.  Unless that child can intelligently discuss Irish Home Rule.

I had never heard "The Frogs and the Fighting Bulls" before.

These frogs are watching these bulls fight.  One frog - the cross-eyed one, says "Oh, those bulls are fighting!  Oh dear!"  The second frog - the one looking right as us, kind of smugly, says (I'm paraphrasing here) "Who gives a shit.  They are fighting each other, and it's far away from us."  The third frog - the one in the middle with the scary ass face, says "They may be fighting each other far away from us now.  But one of those Bulls is going to be driven from that pasture and end up over here and crush us to death, so this does concern us, fool."  Is the middle frog proposing that they go fight the bulls themselves?  Because I don't think that's going to end well.

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