Thursday, January 24, 2008

Freedom and Limits: how to illustrate Carroll's stories



      Lewis Carroll doesn’t always describe details of a scene: personalities, objects and settings. But when he does, he doesn’t do so right away. As I have already explained the Duchess, in order to be able to imagine her, one has to read examine the second scene in which she’s acting. But how are we supposed to view her in the first scene? It’s good that she was called “Duchess” what gives us a hint that she’s wearing a duchess’ costume. That is why one of the main jobs of an illustrator is to show what Carroll will describe later or will not describe at all.
      Let’s talk first about the surrounding in which the action is taking place. For example: everything that’s happening to Alice, Gryphon, and Mock Turtle, is usually drawn on seashore. Why? Carroll only gives two details to describe the surrounding, but not a single word about any seashore. Whoops! Sir John Tenniel used the ‘Lobster Quadrille’ poem’s circumstances for this scene, and almost every Illustrator then followed his way. I too, followed his tradition in my first black and white series of Illustrations. I even drew the Mock Turtle in a seaman costume. However, the more logical setup would be a place that is near to the Wonderful Garden, and where the Queen can walk freely without guards and courtiers, therefore it would probably take place somewhere in the Royal Palace. Gryphon is sleeping “in the sun” and this doesn’t explain the setting to us. It could be anywhere: on a ship’s deck, in a microscopic English garden, on the seashore (why not?). Or, maybe it is on the ledge of the royal chapel? Where else can you find Chimeras, Gryphons and Gargoyles? What about the rock on which the Mock Turtle was sitting? Why wouldn’t we consider the Japanese Garden of Stones, somewhere in the Royal Palace (a gift from the Emperor of Japan, for example)? Also, we have to notice that all these places: the Wonderful Garden, the place where the Griffon lay, and the rock on which the Mock Turtle sat, have to be near each other. In the time it took Alice to get from one place to another, she was only able to exchange a couple of sentences with the Queen and then the Gryphon. Even the way back, isn’t too long – the way to Royal Courtroom (which has to be also located in the Royal Palace).
      When I say that Carroll didn’t point out or explained details, it doesn’t undermine the quality of Carroll’s texts, because the main value of the story is in the character’s interactions and dialogues. The rest (details, circumstances, settings, and descriptions) is made up by our imagination. Illustrators’s job is to illustrate the story in their own image, but at the same time to not contradict even a single detail given by Carroll.

Oleg Lipchenko

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