The Source of Inspiration

Gorey Cuckoo Tree

This original Edward Gorey sketch for the cover of Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree (which sadly I don’t own..!) was in fact inspired by Pat Marriott the artist who originally illustrated Aiken’s ‘Wolves’ series, and who had been introduced to her in the 1950’s by publisher Jonathan Cape. The artists’ styles do have a certain similarity, and often Pat’s illustrations have been mistakenly attributed to Gorey, or even to another Edward – Ardizzone who was also popular in the 1950’s and 60’s. Coming from the pre- internet generations, Pat never had a website to immortalise her work, and although he original illustrations are still included in the UK editions of the books, thanks to the current classic Red Fox paperbacks,  I would like to make sure Pat Marriott’s timeless images are remembered!

Here below is Pat’s drawing, much more closely related to Aiken’s story, and which clearly inspired the later picture above; while hers shows characters one recognises from the story,  Gorey’s has a stylised small girl in a frock – a frock???  Dido Twite is usually dressed in her midshipman’s garb, and only willingly wore a frock once in her life, when dear Sophie made her a new blue merino to wear to the fair…   But Gorey does bring to life the overhanging threatening trees as seen by Dido,  and they echo her own eavesdropping on the evil plotters while under the effects of the hallucinogenic Joobie nuts – very much  as Marriott first imagined them.  It is certainly fascinating to have the opportunity to compare the two.

Cuckoo Trees

The partnership between Joan Aiken and Pat Marriott lasted for forty years, during which time Joan Aiken wrote eight of the twelve ‘Wolves’ chronicles,  for which Pat’s illustrations received reviews as positive as those for the books themselves, as did her work and covers for all of Joan’s classic collections of fantasy stories, also published by Jonathan Cape, in a handsome set of black white and gold editions .

Collections

This partnership was so inspired it deserves to be more widely celebrated, like that between Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl, whose depictions of characters like Matilda or the BFG seem to belong to the writer and illustrator inseparably.

  Joan Aiken writes about Pat, and other fruitful illustrator partnerships here.

There is however, one original piece of inspiration that is even less known.  When Joan Aiken sent off her first stories in the early 1950’s, she also included illustrations of her own –  as used to expressing herself in chalk and pastel as in words, she had no qualms about including her own pictures. The Editor’s reply was friendly but firm: ” Thank you for including your own illustrations to the stories.  I am afraid I cannot use them as they are – for one thing it would be difficult to reproduce them adequately – drawn as they are in blue ink – but they will be invaluable as a guide to the artist we eventually select.”

Singeing JA

Joan Aiken’s drawing of the unicorn and raven from an early Armitage story

Joan Aiken’s response when she saw Pat Marriott’s drawings and cover design of unicorns for All You’ve Ever Wanted – that first collection,  was:

“They are delightful, full of character, and exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for…I should like to congratulate the artist.”  Her only reservation about one drawing –  “The governess is a little too sweet and amiable…”   A premonition of evil governesses to come, perhaps?

Their friendship was to last a lifetime.

All You've Ever Wanted

************

See the full collection of Edward Gorey covers for the Wolves Series here.

And some of Joan Aiken’s own work.

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3 thoughts on “The Source of Inspiration

  1. I often wonder how differently (or not) books would have been received if authors’ own illustrations had been used instead of that of professional artists. Lewis Carroll, by his own admission an indifferent artist, had his own vision of the first Alice story which eventually saw the light of day with the facsimile publication of Alice’s Adventures Underground when Alice was already an adult; it’s clear that Tenniel’s illustrations often followed Carroll’s quite closely. Chris Riddell (just recently deservedly made Children’s Laureate) is both artist and writer and so well able to transcribe his vision from his own text. On the other hand Australian fantasy writer Trudi Canavan is also a professional artist, but publishers have eschewed her designs for what I think are indifferent generic cover illustrations which sadly bear no relationship to her novels.

    My point is this: from the examples of Joan’s work that you’ve published, Lizza, it is crystal clear that — reproduction issues aside — it’s a crying shame that we’ve been denied Joan’s own talented artwork. But then we wouldn’t have had Pat’s marvellously atmospheric line drawings or Edward Gorey’s striking cover designs.

  2. I’m rereading the series now, and have to take a moment to say (true confessions, here) that it was the Gorey covers that first drew me in. I’d never heard of Aiken before seeing them and would never have taken the happy leap if not for EG, so I owe him a huge debt.

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