Warwick Hutton

I've just rediscovered the work of Warwick Hutton, a British author and illustrator of retellings--mythological, biblical, folk and fairy tales of all sorts. Hutton's illustrations are rendered in delicate pen-and-ink and watercolor wash and characterized by spacious sea and landscapes; oversized yet oddly graceful figures, of both people and animals; and lots of interesting compositional elements. We own only one of his books, a retelling by Susan Cooper of The Silver Cow: A Welsh Tale (Atheneum, 1985), in which the Tylwyth Teg reward a farmer's son for his playing of the harp with a beautiful, bountiful silver cow--until the greedy farmer goes a bit too far, and loses her and all the silver cows that had been born to her: the treasures of his herd. (Hutton also illustrated Cooper's retelling of The Selkie Girl; I don't like selkie stories, so I haven't read that one.)

I especially like Hutton's own retellings of Greek myths, though; these include Theseus and the Minotaur (my favorite), Perseus, and Persephone, as well as the Homeric stories of The Trojan Horse and Odysseus and the Cyclops. All of these are, sadly, out of print. Hutton himself, who was also a painter and, like his father John, a glass engraver, died in 1994 at the age of 45. I've added his books to my "must buy if I see them at the used book sale" list. They are really lovely.

Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir by Tove Jansson

Books I Want is apparently becoming a regular feature here. This week, I'm wanting Tove Jansson's first book for adults, which is actually a collection of stories called Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir. It's been re-released by Sort Of Books in a deluxe edition that includes rare images from the Jansson family archives ("a perfect Christmas gift," says the publisher), such as the one of eight-year-old Tove on the cover. I've not read any of Jansson's adult fiction, but Sculptor's Daughter seems like a good place to start, despite the title. Why do so many books about women identify them as someone else's--usually a man's--daughter or wife? In this case, the sculptor is Jansson's father, Viktor. For the record, her mother, Signe Hammarsten-Jannson, was an illustrator and graphic designer. Also probably just as influential on Tove.

One of the stories in this collection, "The Iceberg," is available to read online (The Independent, November 3, 2013), and it is lovely, keenly observed (lived, really) and true to a child's experiences and emotions. The whole collection, in paperback and with a more anonymous cover photograph of a snowy landscape, will be published in the US by William Morrow in January 2014. If you can wait that long.

Books I Want: The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

The publisher's description of the 1962 Dutch children's classic The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt, available now for the first time in English (translated by Laura Watkinson; Pushkin Press, 2013), is practically irresistible: 

It is the dead of night. Sixteen-year-old Tiuri must spend hours locked in a chapel in silent contemplation if he is to be knighted the next day. But, as he waits by the light of a flickering candle, he hears a knock at the door and a voice desperately asking for help. A secret letter must be delivered to King Unauwen across the Great Mountains – a letter upon which the fate of the entire kingdom depends.

[Me.] Now that's an evocative premise. Tiuri must open the door, because that's what a knight would do--but then he won't be knighted, so he may as well deliver the letter....

Tiuri’s journey will take him through dark, menacing forests, across treacherous rivers, to sinister castles and strange cities. He will encounter enemies who would kill to get the letter, but also the best of friends in the most unexpected places. He must trust no one. He must keep his true identity secret. Above all, he must never reveal what is in the letter…

[Me again.] What is in the letter? I must know. Thank goodness for Book Depository.

[Here's a review in the Irish Times comparing The Letter to the King to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, 11/3/2013].