Translated Tales with Illustrations by Arthur Rackham

I have been looking forward to seeing the movie that came out last week about Shakespeare, called Anonymous. While attempting to convince a friend to see it with me we got into a conversation about translations of stories to film and t.v. shows that led to this week’s post. My friend brought up the fact that she is disappointed by the new Camelot series on CBC, not because she doesn’t enjoy watching it, but because the story of Arthur and his Knights has been translated or retold so many times on television, the stage, and on film, that she has no idea what the original story is anymore. I may have smugly pointed out that there is a simple remedy: read the book. I was rightly (and equally smugly) asked, which one?

That conversation reminded of a time, when I was much younger, that I was convinced that Shakespeare could not be as difficult to understand as I had been led to believe. I had just read, and loved, several of his “stories” without pause. I don’t remember what that particular book was, but I do know that it had some great pictures and was probably something like the book I recently looked at, in the Osborne Collection:  The Tales of Shakespeare, by the brother and sister team, Charles and Mary Lamb.

This particular book was especially interesting because it was reprinted in 1909 to include several plates, drawn by Arthur Rackham to accompany the Shakespeare tales, and it was in circulation at the Boys and Girls House, which later became part of the Toronto Public Library’s Osborne Collection.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that circulating the work did not mean that it was in extremely rough condition. It does seem as though books that are available online tend to be in better condition than those circulated in libraries. I love having  access to library collections online, and there are plenty of  texts available to view free at Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia Loves Libraries and Google Books, but it is not the same as being able to hold the book, especially older copies like this one, with thick paper, heavy covers and gorgeous illustrations. I was equally surprised to see that there were no torn-out pages or writing in this edition and sadly, much less surprised to see this:

One of the illustrated plates seems to be missing in this volume, but based on the other illustrations,  it is easy to see why someone admired it enough to want to keep it for themselves:

When I mentioned how much I loved the illustrations to one of the librarians at The Osborne Collection, she told me about Arthur Rackham and brought me a beautiful book of fairy tales. This one, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, is also illustrated by Rackham, but one that was never in circulation. It looks much like the book of Shakespeare’s stories on the outside but it is a limited edition, bound vellum and signed by the illustrator.

In the book of Shakespeare tales, illustrated plates were added after the books were printed, so I really should not assume that the missing plate was stolen by someone when the book was in circulation. It is possible that it fell from the page it was adhered to and was lost. The illustrations in the book of fairy tales uses line-block printing with three colours, so the illustrations are printed on pages that were part of the original format of the book .

I suppose I jumped to the conclusion that someone has stolen the print because they are so beautiful and Arthur Rackham’s work has become so well-known. In any case, both books are now well-cared for within the Osborne Collection and available for anyone to visit and look through. Rackham’s work is also included in the library’s Peter Pan, Pirates, Mermaids and Fairies exhibit, which is on display now. New images are often created of our favourite tales and although they are not always as satisfying as I hope they’ll be, I always look forward to seeing them. This week I added Arthur Rackham to my list of favourites.

All photos were taken at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library, from:

1. Lamb, Charles and Lamb, Mary. Tales from Shakespeare. London: J.M Dent & Co., 1909.

2. Grimm, Jacob and Grimm, Wilhelm. The Fairy Tales of the Brother’s Grimm. Trans. Lucas, Edgar. London: Constable  & Company Ltd., 1909.


1 Comment

Filed under Mel Rhodes Gray

One response to “Translated Tales with Illustrations by Arthur Rackham

  1. Mufei Jiang

    What a coincidence! I actually went to see Anonymous the night before the TinTin talk. Also, Arthur Rackham is my favourite illustrator! I personally would not be surprised if anyone stole the plate. When I was in London this summer, I actually bought an old print of one of his illustrations, which happens to be from Peter Pan! The shop I went to (Marchpane–they have a website too) had quite a few antiquarian books illustrated by Rackham, most of them so dear that I can only sigh wistfully. Quite enjoyed this post!

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