Friday, October 17, 2008

PAULINE BAYNES: QUEEN OF NARNIA AND MIDDLE-EARTH

Pauline Baynes
(1922-2008)


This tribute, originally posted on Brian Sibley: the blog, was written a few days after Pauline Baynes' death, on 1 August 2008, at the cottage in Dockenfield, Surrey, where she had lived and worked for many years.

There are certain illustrators whose work is so intimately interwoven with the author's text as to rank as the books' co-creators. Sir John Tenniel, for example, the first illustrator of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and E H Shepard who, with A A Milne, led us into the world of Winnie-the-Pooh. Similarly, Pauline Baynes' pictures of country and denizens in C S Lewis' seven Chronicles of Narnia are still - despite the recent big-screen movie imagery - the definitive depiction of that extraordinary land beyond the wardrobe...

I can remember, precisely, where I was when I read each of the Narnian Chronicles: for example, I read The Magician's Nephew one winter's day curled up before an open fire while my mother was making cakes and pastry on the kitchen table.

Once glance at the vista on the jacket of the Puffin paperback edition of that book still not only evokes what is, for me, the essence of the land of Narnia - with its seashore, mountains, woods and lakes - but also gives me back a specific day from the tenth year of my life!


I first met Pauline almost thirty years ago, in October 1979, at a 'Narnia Book Fair' held at Church House Bookshop, Westminster. I was carrying one of my most treasured possessions: a copy of Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil which the author had signed for me ten years earlier. She added her own signature to the title page, doubling its value to me as a collector.


Following that initial meeting, we kept in touch, collaborated on a book, The Land of Narnia, and, during the past 10 years, became close friends.

After the death of my and David's mothers, she became a kind of adoptive mum and (perhaps because she had no children of her own) interested herself in what we were doing and fussed over and cared for us in the various ups and downs of our lives. We loved her dearly and are deeply aware of how we - and others in her extended adopted family - are going to miss her...

She had a ceaselessly inquiring mind and energetically debated every topic imaginable. She could be sharply critical and quixotically changeable; she never suffered fools gladly, sniffed out cant and hypocrisy in a second and enjoyed nothing better than the kind of conversation which could veer from total seriousness to helpless laughter.

But all these are personal feelings and what I want to do in this posting is remind people of the extraordinary talent possessed by this modest, unassuming woman who created images that define the childhoods of millions...

After producing illustrations for various books of fairy tales, Pauline Baynes' career was established when, in 1949, J R R Tolkien's publishers showed the author of The Hobbit a portfolio of her artwork. Tolkien had written Farmer Giles of Ham, a fanciful novella with a faux-medieval setting, and being dissatisfied with the pictures that had been produced for the book was looking for a new illustrator.

Pauline produced a series of witty line illustrations that perfectly caught the essence of Tolkien's story to an extent that he declared them to be "more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme." He also delighted in reporting that friends had said that the pictures had reduced his text to "a commentary on the drawings"!

Pauline revisited the story of Farmer Giles and his exploits with the somewhat reluctant dragon, Chrysophylax Dives, on several occasions such as for the 50th edition of the story published in 1999...


It was the beginning of a long friendship between author and illustrator with Pauline decorating Tolkien's subsequent books, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Smith of Wootton Major.


It had been Tolkien's wish that Pauline should illustrate The Lord of the Rings, but the book grew into a project that rendered that plan impractical although it was her slipcase design for the three volumes that was adapted as a cover for the first one-volume paperback edition - providing what was, for an entire generation, a peek into the essentially English landscape of Middle-earth...

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Posthumously Pauline illustrated Tolkien's Poems and Stories (including Leaf by Niggle) and Bilbo's Last Song. She also created that memorable map of Middle-earth that was a feature of thousands of student bedrooms...

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I remember Pauline telling me that she always wondered whether Tolkien's wife, Edith, had ever actually read her husband's magnum opus. Her doubts stemmed from the day she took her artwork for the Middle-earth map to show the author. Above the map she had drawn the figures of the Nine Walkers - Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, Merry and Pippin - setting out on the Quest of the Ring; beneath the map she had added an array of villains: marauding Orcs, the Nine Black Riders, Gollum and, the bottom right hand corner, Shelob.

Tolkien was pleased with the map - apart from one mis-spelled name that had to be corrected - and called to Edith to come and see. "Look what Pauline's done," said Tolkien. Edith scrutinized the map and the two groups of characters and then - pointing to Shelob - said: "Ooo, look at that horrid spider!"

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It was the collaboration with Tolkien that resulted in Pauline's subsequent association with the septet of children's novels by C S Lewis beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and known, collectively, as The Chronicles of Narnia.


"Met C S Lewis. Came home. Made rock cakes." That's how Pauline's diary recorded one of the two meetings she had with the author whose work she so memorably embellished. It tells you exactly how she viewed her contribution to books that, for millions, of us were seminal childhood reading.

The illustrations for the Lewis books contributed significantly to their success and now are inseparable from the text, but she illustrated over a hundred other books as well as designing jackets and frontispieces for others and contributing numerous decorative pictures (left) to the illustrated magazines which proliferated in the '40s and '50s such as The Sphere and The Illustrated London News.

Her artistic output was astonishing: designs for stained glass, church embroideries and Christmas cards, pictures for school text books, and fanciful advertisements for a variety of products such as, here (courtesy of her friend, Martin Springett), Huntly and Palmer's biscuits...


Among her finest works (and there are a great many more) should be listed Henri Pourrat's A Treasury of French Tales; Amabel Williams-Ellis' Fairy Tales from the British Isles and The Arabian Nights (reflecting her fascination with Persian miniatures); The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes, collected by her friends Peter and Iona Opie; and Grant Uden's A Dictionary of Chivalry which contained a staggering near-600 illustrations in its margins and won the artist the coveted Kate Greenaway Medal.

She illustrated stories by Rosemary Harris, Rumer Godden and Helen Piers as well as the final volume of Mary Norton's Borrowers saga and produced another iconic images for the cover of the first paperback edition (right) of Richard Adams' Watership Down.

What her work on these and other books show is her tirelessly painstaking research into the detailing of period costume and architecture and, above all, her extraordinary talent for conveying landscape and depicting natural life - especially animals, whether wild or domestic and, in particular, horses and, of course, dogs which were so much a part of her life.

Her later picture books - many on religious subjects - such as All Things Bright and Beautiful, The Song of the Three Holy Children, Noah and the Ark and In the Beginning, demonstrate the artist's talent for design and her superb mastery of fluid line, gem-like colours and the use of negative space.

There were also an amazing number of drawings done as favours for friends. For example, in 1977 I was editing Bandersnatch, the newsletter of the Lewis Carroll Society when the discovery of the 'lost' chapter of Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There, featuring a Wasp in a Wig reading a newspaper came to light.

The episode had been dropped from the book at proof stage because John Tenniel had said such a bizarre character was beyond his powers to illustrate. But Pauline proved Tenniel wrong by creating this superb miniature (left) which I featured on the mast-head to Bandersnatch for several years.

Pauline remained prolific until the end of her life, illustrating a selection of writings from the Qur'an and the Book of Job (below) which are still to be published...

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One of Pauline's last completed projects was producing 22 full page illustrations for a story of mine, entitled Oscar the Extraordinary Owl. She was disappointed when a succession of publishers declined the book, and concluded that her style was now too old fashioned and out of step with the current trends in children's publishing.

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One day, I trust, someone will recognise again her singular talent for composition and publish some of these works which she made towards the end of her life purely for the pleasure of making pictures - so that they may bring pleasure to others just as her illustrations to the books of Lewis and Tolkien have done for fifty years...

When we visited her a few weeks ago, the drawing board facing in the window that looked out onto her pretty cottage garden, was covered with a series of energetic illustrations - each a mini-masterpiece of design - illustrating Aesop's Fables (right).

Today, that drawing board lies bare.

The artist is gone; but the artwork that she created lives on...


You can read my full obituary to Pauline Baynes here in The Independent.

Other obituaries appeared in The Guardian and The Telegraph; although unsigned they were written by two more of her close friends, respectively, David Henshall and Charlotte Cory. There was also a full obituary in The Times.

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