There is a certain aura around owning a first edition, especially if rare or old, or a famous work by an established author. It demands that special pride of place on the bookshelf – in the eye line to be noticed or admired and certainly held, albeit carefully!
There is much debate about what constitutes a modern first edition and the date from which a book can be stipulated as such. At Rare & Antique Books, we define it as anything published in the 20th century, from 1900 through to the 1970s. Obviously authors such as Rudyard Kipling and H G Wells, spanned the centuries. Their classics such as ‘The Jungle Book’ or ‘The Time Machine’, published in 1894 and 1895 respectively, fall outside this. But can it then be right to call Kipling’s ‘Kim’ or Well’s ‘First Men in the Moon’ modern (both published 1901)? Clearly not.
Others have a different definition, feeling that the dawn of the colour dust jacket signifies a modern first. At the end of the 19th century they were often created purely to protect the book. Then to be discarded following purchase. They were plain brown, single colour black printed designs. It was not until the 1920s that dust jackets really rose to prominence. Production processes allowed for more affordable and beautiful full colour designs. The iconic design for F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ is one of the most sought after ‘piece of paper’ in the world of book collecting.
So consequently here the view is held that the 1920s herald the beginning of modern firsts. One thing is certain, these dust jackets add value to their accompanying books. An Ian Fleming ‘Casino Royale’ can be worth over £20,000 with a good condition jacket, as opposed to £2000 without.
Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, the definition will no doubt change over time. It is unlikely what was deemed a modern first in the 1980’s, would have included books from the 70’s. Yet now first editions of classics such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (Burgess – 1970) or ‘Watership Down’ (Adams – 1972) are highly valued if in good condition and, of course, with their dust jackets.
A bibliophile can often build a rare book collection around an author or topic. There are so many to choose from! However, how about a collection of authors who are also artists? There are surprisingly number of authors who have dabbled in art and in fact are as talented with the paintbrush as they are with the pen. Collecting first editions books of authors who have illustrated their covers might make an interesting and rare range of books. Here are a few authors and books that might go into such a collection.
Rudyard Kipling: Kipling was the son of an art teacher and the nephew of two of the greatest late Victorian painters, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Sir Edward Poynter. Brought up in this artistic environment it is not surprising that Kipling developed artistic confidence and skills. Many of his animal and jungle adventure stories included his illustrations. One of the finest examples is Kipling’s eclectic mix of drawings is in his children’s collection, Just So Stories. The illustrations demonstrate the rich artistic influences of Aubrey Beardsley, Japanese printing and European and American folk art. A brilliant combination of artistic and literary flair.
J. R. R. Tolkien: Tolkien developed his artistic talent with as much attention and imaginative rigour as he did his writing. He enjoyed working on visual mediums of drawings and illustrations for his books and for his own children. A collection of 200 reproductions of his watercolour, pencil, and ink works is included in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s collection, J. R. R. Tolkien, artist and Illustrator. Tolkien’s obsessive accuracy of detail are reflected his attention to the maps and imaginative illustrations of his books of Middle Earth, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Publications of his novels were often delayed by his characteristic amendments and alterations in order to satisfy his artistic and literary perfection. Yet his work remains a true example of a great techniques of writing and illustration.
Evelyn Waugh: Waugh utilised artistic skills to reflect his black humour and irony in his publications. During his university years he contributing to his university’s magazines, Cherwell and Isis with his cartoons. After graduating he contributed to a friend’s prank exhibition with a painting attributed to a spoof German artist, Bruno Hat, “in the modern French style”. His distinctive dust jackets for Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies are iconic. In addition, he composed drawings for a limited edition of his third novel, Black Mischief, published in 1932.
Jack Kerouac: An avid artist from a young age, Jack Kerouac left a significant amount of artistic work on his death. In fact so much that an exhibition of his work , ‘Kerouac: Beat Painting’, was displayed to much acclaim at the Museo Maga, Gallarte in 2018. Kerouac enjoyed the artistic as well as literary aspect of a book publication. He was deeply disappointed with the dust jacket of his first book, The Town and City, saying it’s as “dull as the title and the photo backflap”. It was published in 1950. He ensured that the dust jacket of his next book, On the Road, was more reflective of his personality. After five years of discussions with the publishers on 1957 his most famous novel was released with his own design for the dust jacket.
Finally, a collection of authors whose literary work was suitably illustrated would not be complete without the infamous book by T. S. Eliot, His Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, contains fourteen whimsical poems inspired by the English tradition of nonsense poetry. His lifelong affection for cats is clearly demonstrated with his playful and sentimental drawings for his cover of the 1939 first edition.
Or maybe this is a good starter book for any collection of Artist and Author!
It is not often that the publishers are featured in the consideration of influences to literary movements. However, The Hogarth Press has a unique place in the history and development of modernism and literature of the twentieth century.
The Hogarth Press was born out of an ideal to provide a hobby for a writer with poor mental health who was sensitive to criticism from demanding publishers. The author in question was Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, felt that the distraction of bookbinding and ability to publish whatever his wife wished would be good for her. Little did they know that what started as a pastime would lead to the release of some of the most significant publications of the time.
The printing press was operated from their dining room at their home, Hogarth House, London from where the press acquired its name. The Woolf couple produced their first 31 page pamphlet, Two Stories, in July 1917. Written by Leonard and Virginia and illustrated by their friend the artist, Dora Carrington, the 150 first edition copies were sold to their friends and acquaintances.
The Woolf couple had an active source of literary material for their publications from their loose circle of writer and artist friends known as the Bloomsbury Group. These like-minded collection of friends and relatives met regularly for lively discussions that, on reflection, were to profoundly influence 20th century literary works. Notable characters of the gatherings included the artists, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, the writers E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey and the economist John Maynard Keynes. Nothing was off limits for the Bloomsbury Group and their topics of conversation challenged the norms of sexuality, politics and social justice of the time.
The Woolf’s freedom and ability to recognise this challenging new literary talent, plus their reduced overheads went a long way to help drive forward the publication of significant literary material. Having their printing press to hand certainly helped to enable these new writers and artists to get their works to the public. Being free to publish without commercial concern allowed them to release rare pamphlet series from unknown authors. Yet the Woolf’s also recognised emerging talent and in its first five years the Hogarth Press published works by T. S Eliot, E.M Forster, Clive Bell and Sigmund Freud. Their bestsellers, Virginia’s Orlando (1928), Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians (1930), T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1930) sold around 30,000 copies in the first six months of publication.
In 1919 they published Virginia’s Kew Gardens which received positive reviews from the Times Literary Supplement. Their hand press was just not capable of fulfilling the numbers of orders required and a second edition of 500 copies was produced by the printer Richard Madley. A corner had been turned and the Woolf’s recognised the need to step into commercial publishing. They continued to hand print smaller works up until 1932 however, they employed Madley for larger orders, sold books directly to the public and invested in a larger printing press. As demand increased the employment of staff was necessary although assistants and managers never seemed to stay long!
Eventually John Lehmann stayed the course and in 1938 he bought out Virginia’s shares in the business. Lehmann maintained the spirit of furthering a new generation of authors and published works such as W.H. Auden, Cecil Day Lewis and Stephen Spender. The Hogarth Press was eventually bought out by the publishing house Chatto and Windus in 1946. The Hogarth Press certain left a rare and significant contribution to the publication of 20th century modern editions.
Detective writers love a puzzle. And collecting Agatha Christie books can be as confusing as her detective novels! Occasional Christie novels fetch vast sums of money yet remaining catalogued novels sell for a varied and sometime perplexingly low sums.
Of course, the length of Christie’s successful career means that her many books were published several decades, making the numerous choice of first editions an issue – the elusive and rare publication is hard to find. Over her lifetime Agatha Christie wrote sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections, with arguably two of the best-known crime characters in literary history, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Her editions have been translated into at least one hundred and three languages. The sales of her books have achieved around two billion copies worldwide and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books (after Shakespeare’s works and the Bible). Her books sold worldwide so publishers quickly sought to produce her books, so there are numerous first editions to be collected by a Christie enthusiast. Of course, Christie was also the author of the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap.
One of the most valuable Christie’s novels were her early publications of the early 1920’s, including the The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Secret Adversity and The Man in the Brown Suit. The Bodley Head imprint for Collins was the publisher of the books. Christie had to work hard to convince publishers to take on her first book with five publishers rejecting the manuscript. Interestingly, the Canadian edition, published by Ryerson Press in 1920, actually precedes the first British edition of The Mysterious Affair. However, no doubt Christies’ scarcest work would be ‘The Mystery on the Links’ published by London, The Bodley Head in 1923. From 1926 Christie was under contract to Collins and the The Collins Crime Club which ran from May 1930 to April 1994. All except six of her books were published under this Crime Club imprint and these editions remain popular and collectable with famous titles of Murder of the Orient Express and The Murder at the Vicarage attracting considerable interest. The wide geographical range of publishers may affect prices and value of a first edition. An early edition of the American publisher York, Dodd, Mead and Company in New York may fetch lower prices than a UK publication.
Yet Agatha Christie’s popularity makes for an enduring interest in her life and publication history. Collecting Agatha Christie first edition books with an author’s provenance or personal history can add significant value to the books and make for a rare volume. In addition, any first edition jacket will add considerable interest to her works. It seems that a Christie collector will have to indulge in a little more investigation – something that detective novelist would welcome!
Charles Dodgson, or rather Lewis Carroll, is primarily known as the author of the children’s classics, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Yet any collection of his works would be incomplete without recognising his expertise in the field of mathematics. In fact many of his fictional works combine his skills of creating fanciful stories and challenging logical and mathematical problems.
Charles L. Dodgson (1832-98) was the mathematical lecturer at Christ Church College at Oxford University, UK for twenty-five years. Teaching and simplifying geometry and mathematical concepts was an issue that greatly interested Dodgson and he was keen to develop an accessible approach to the subject.
One of his earliest papers was published in 1866 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London concerning a method for evaluating determinants called the condensation method. His paper documented a new method to calculate determinants that was based on Jacobi’s Theorem. The first edition of the book was published in 1867 under the title of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants and is one of Dodgson’s most academic and also rare works. See our copy https://rareandantiquebooks.com/first-edition-books/elementary-treatise-determinants-charles-dodgson/
His later mathematical publications had a lighter feel. From his tutoring and coaching came the first of many published mathematical pamphlets. His style was to prepare stories, puzzles and other literary styles to explain mathematical concepts in a popular way. For example, although the play Euclid and his Modern Rivals(1879) was written as fiction, it is a defense of Euclid’s Elements as the best textbook for geometry scholars, an issue of contention at the time. In his introduction to the book, his skill at intertwining a playful approach to mathematics appeals to the non-scientific audience. It was around this time Dodgson invented his pen name as he thought he should distinguish his two types of writing, mathematical and fiction, yet he continued to intertwine these two themes in his future books.
One of Dodgson’s characteristic ways to encourage the public to become involved in his games was the inclusion of puzzles in popular magazines. For example, between 1880 and 1885 he published A Tangled Tale as a serial in the Monthly Packet. Dodgson used “knots” to signify the difficulty of the one, two or three problems it featured. His comments on the solution to the puzzle would follow in the subsequent issue often with amusing thoughts from the public on the problem. The book of The Tangled Tale was released in 1885 by Alexander Macmillan of Macmillan, who published all but two of his books over the thirty-five years of their friendship. Dodgson also presented several first editions of his books to public libraries, as with this copy of Symbolic Logic, donated to the Wigan Free Library in 1896. https://rareandantiquebooks.com/first-edition-books/charles-dodgson-symbolic-logic/
Dodgson’s love of making puzzles accessible to others is indicated with his publication of Doublets. A new puzzle was introduced into the magazine Vanity Fair in 1879 and Dodgson published a guide to the game with a glossary of suitable words to be used for future puzzles. This word game is now recognised as a popular brain teaser today.
In The Game of Logic Dodgson offers creative mental play to teach the fundamentals of logic and spatial representation of logical statements. He uses colourful ways of demonstrating the serious mathematical statements by using counters on a board in certain ways to denote cakes with certain characteristics (tasty, non-tasty, fresh, not-fresh). Dodgson employed his typical light-hearted approach to explanations using humour and absurdities to make a point as in, the “game” is for at least one player.
Of course Lewis Carroll, Charles Dodgson, is best known for his fictional books of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872). Yet he managed to carve out a rare place in literary history by combining his interests in mathematics and fiction. His ability to seamlessly include challenging logic and entertainment have, over time, ensured a consistent appeal to readers and collectors alike .
A question often asked about rare and first edition books. Of course the answer is not as straight forward as it might seem. To put it simply, the interest of a signature in a book depends on who it is and what else is included in the writing.
Of course the “who” goes without saying. It has to be the author or illustrator who is well known to add value to a book. And factor in whether the person is still alive or was a serial signer or not. For example, a signed Bram Stoker or Rudyard Kipling book is both of value due to the fact both are long deceased and both signed very few of their books.
Signatures of people associated with a book’s film adaptation have interest too, so a first edition Ian Fleming book signed by the Bond actor, whilst not worth as much as one signed by Fleming himself, would still add considerable value to the book. Even other actors who featured in the film add a degree of interest, with the likes of Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore from Goldfinger) leading the list.
In the book world there are so many sorts of signatures. And there seems to be a hierarchy of sorts among it all.
One level of the hierarchy is the signature written with nothing else and this can add interest to a book. Kingsley Amis signed books are a good example. This simple signature of an author or illustrator maybe more valuable if it is dated and written directly on the pages of the book. Book plates or tipped in signatures are considered less desirable. Owners sometimes like to write their own name on a book and occasionally this can be of interest to a book collector if the person is on interest. Even a bookplate of a related and interesting character can add value to a book.
Nest step up in the ladder is the inscription signature. This is the signature which has been written especially for a particular person and naturally is especially interesting if that person is well known themselves. Of course a dedication inscription that is written to an unknown person may actually detract from a books value.
Any story behind a signature can add interest and value to a book and is called an association copy. This is where the author or illustrator’s signature is inscribed to someone associated with the writer. Links of association could be family members, other famous authors, politicians or anyone of note. Our ephemera within Now We Are Six depicting connections between H. G. Wells and A. A. Milne is a fascinating find. Occasionally the person who collects the books may become an association of interest. These can tell a story, delving into a piece of literary history so this will always add value and interest to any bibliophile. Finding a date alongside the writing may pin point the interest to a significant event.
A dedication signature is the ultimate level of signatures and can add significant value and attention to a bibliophile. Finding a signature dedicated to the person to whom the book was written for is quite special and rare to locate.
The worth of a signature will naturally be dependent slightly on market forces – the more generous an author is in signing their publication the less value the signature might have. Books of famous authors who rarely scribbled their names on their books are sought after items example. An author whose books are highly collectable will obviously attract more attention (usually if signed or not!).
For identification purposes the more that is written the better to confirm the authenticity of the writing and establishing the accuracy of the writer is best done through a specialist service to avoid costly mistakes.
Such a wealth of choices of signed books makes the bibliophile’s search for what’s in the signature of the next book such an interesting and enduring task.
Winnie the Pooh, that well known little bear is again making publicity. The film, Goodbye Christopher Robin, is being released this October. What a great opportunity to revisit the fascinating story of the author behind the beloved classic children’s character.
And a chance to remind a bibliophile of the appeal and value in acquiring a set of the Winnie The Pooh volumes. There is certainly plenty of scope for building up a varied collection of books along this theme.
A. A Milne spent his early literary career writing suspense novels and plays yet he presented the character of the lovable bear to his publishers, Methuen in the mid 1920’s. They agreed to publish his book of poetry, When We Were Very Young, in 1924 and the rest, as we know, is history.
Winnie the Pooh quickly followed and was published in late 1926 with great success. The third book, Now We Are Six, was released in 1927 with a run of 50,000 trade copies. It success was immediate achieving more sales of the previous two books in just two months. The House at Pooh Corner, 1928 was Milne’s final book in the series and one in which he introduced the character of Tigger. With the public’s knowledge that this was the last in the series the publication of 75,000 copies sold out quickly and Tigger became a popular new character. The books with their iconic illustrations by the talented Ernest H. Shepard have remained highly sought after collectors items.
Collectors of these books need to look out for particular markers of their first edition status. The first book of poems, When We Were Very Young, has blue boards with gilt character illustrations. It has no “page ix” marked and is distinctive from the second printing copies which do have that printed on the contents page. A first edition and first printing copy is the clearly the rarest of the four titles and in a fine condition with a dust jacket it can fetch a four figure sum.
Milne’s next book, Winnie the Pooh, features Christopher Robin and Pooh as the central characters in a series of stories in their own right. Copies with immaculate green cloth bindings and E. H. Shepard’s stamped gilt illustrations of Pooh and Christopher Robin are sought after items. First edition copies are distinguished by the yellow pictorial dust jacket and 117th thousand printed on the back flap with 7/6 net pricing on the spine. The book has distinctive illustrations of the map of the “100 Aker Wood” on the front free pages.
Milne wrote Now We Are Six as a collection of 35 verse poems. He dedicates the book to Christopher Robin’s childhood friend, Anne Darlington stating, “now she is seven and because she is so speshal.” The UK edition is bound in maroon cloth with the typical gilt illustrations. Likewise, the pink endpapers feature E. H. Shepard’s illustrations. The first edition dust jacket is very pale and a fine copy is hard to find. Any copy with a provenance is clearly a bonus. Our copy with playful comments between the authors, H. G. Wells and A. A. Milne, is a lovely find. They comment of the words “now she is seven and because she is so speshal” with H. G. Wells adding “when Alan was six, I was nix”.
The House at Pooh Corner is last of the Milne’s books in the series. Fine 1928 first editions will be notable for bright salmon pinks covers with gilt illustrations of Pooh and Christopher Robin stamped on the front board. Again the end papers are illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Any accompanying dust jackets will have the charming illustrations of the characters on the front covers and spine. This edition is prone to fading so a bright copy can be hard to track down.
For a collector a wish list would include deluxe versions of all the books. These deluxe editions came out in the same year as the trade editions except for When We Were Very Young which was released at the time of the seventh edition. Of course signed copies of the quartet with dust jackets in fine condition would complete the wish list. A bibliophile can seek a library of UK editions published by Methuen, London or U.S versions published by Dutton & Co, New York.
All the first editions were followed by a limited first edition run printed on handmade paper, and often known as “Large Paper” copies. Small numbers were released making them scarce and valuable items. Only 100 copies of When We Were Very Young were ever published. 350 copies of Winnie the Pooh signed by Milne and Shepard were released by Methuen in 1926. These copies are distinctive because of their two-tone blue boards. The U.S. limited edition of this book was also published in 1926 with blue and pink boards. Only 200 numbered copies and 26 lettered copies are available. The third book had only 200 “Large Paper” copies released with salmon paper boards, a beige buckram spine and a printed paper label on the front board. Finally the last in the series, 350 signed copies of The House at Pooh Corner was released with cream paper-covered boards, a blue buckram spine and a printed paper label on the front cover. All of these editions are highly sought after books and make a very desirable set.
Of course, once you have sought out a fine set of the Pooh books you might want to move onto completing the collection of all of Milne’s other fine works – but that is another story…
“How the book got it’s jacket” sounds like a good title from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories yet it is an interesting question, when did books acquire their dust wrappers?
Before the 1820’s the text of a book was often bound in a commissioned binding of the owners choice. If a cover was needed to protect a book it was a plain paper wrapper, known as a “bastard title” that was quickly discarded once the book was purchased. An early forerunner version of a book protector was a slip case or sheath which were used for the covering of ornate gift publications or special books. From 1820 these covers progressed to a more paper like version and occasionally included the name of the book title on the cover. The golden age of illustration ensured that ornate and beautiful books were designed which required no decorative covers so any dust jackets for these books were frequently removed to enable the book to be displayed. As any dust jacket collector of 19th and 20th century dust jackets knows a dust jacket from this period is a rare item indeed.
Over time techniques of printing and marketing advanced allowing publishers to make book covers more colourful and appealing – although at the time continued scrapping of lovely jackets as “wrapping paper” continued. Many books were issued with a plain glassine dust jacket which was instantly dismissed on opening but are now sought after items.
By the 1920’s dust jackets were becoming familiar. The use of the flap on a jacket became refined providing protection of the book and allowing the owner to read the book too. An added bonus for the publisher was that there was space for promotional information about the author and the book. As the ornately designed book waned the dust jacket became the focus of attraction. The artistic and commercial developments in the art world encouraged more designers to move into corporate employment. The golden Age illustrators even moved into the area of dust jacket design as in the 1925 edition of A Christmas Carol with Arthur Rackham designed dust wrapper. Book designs became objects of art themselves.
World War II interrupted the development of the jackets for a while as shortages of paper restricted publication. Yet since then the dust jacket has gained importance in the field of book collecting. As every book collector will know, a good quality first editionjacket can add considerable value to any book. The value and interest can very often now be in the illustration and design of the dust jacket. Unusual information about an author or the book on the dust jacket can now make it a rare and sought after object.
Author designed jackets such as Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, 1930, or Moonraker by Ian Fleming, are unusual items. Illustrators who then write a book and illustrate their dust jackets are interesting too as in The Ring by Richard Chopping (illustrator to many of Ian Fleming, James Bond novels).
It can probably be assumed that if How the book got it’s jacket was indeed a Kipling publication it would no doubt have had no jacket on – or maybe it might be covered in the popular glassine covers of the time – and would indeed now be a collectors item!
Book collectors know that, with modern first editions, the dust jacket accounts for about 80% of the value of a book. However, some might argue that book collectors are also in the business of seeking additional rewards from holding an ironically designed jacket.
The cover of William Heinemann’s 1962 edition of Anthony Burgess’s, A Clockwork Orange, is such a cover. Designed by the artist Barry Trengrove, the shocking use of pink and black reflects the violent and disturbing content of the novel. The illustration of the aggressive and tormented face is in line with expectations of the leading character, Alex. Additionally the garbled text pouring out of the speech bubble hint at the unusual language within the novel.
Trengrove was a recognised artist of the time and he designed the cover of Leonard Cohen’s first novel, The Favourite Game, (Secker and Warburg 1963). A publication, 17 Graphic Designers London, included Trengrove’s image alongside other leading designers of the time. These included Dennis Bailey, John Sewell and Jock Kinneir among others.
Despite the iconic dust jacket on publication the challenging nature of the novel may have baffled the reviewers. Sales of the book were poor in the UK and reviews were mixed. By the mid-1960s A Clockwork Orange had only sold 3872 copies. However, it quickly became an underground hit. It was adapted by Andy Warhol for his Factory film Vinyl (1965). The book did not reach a global audience, however, until its second film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Sales in the United States were more positive especially after the film release.
Rare First Editions.
First editions of Trengrove’s dust jacket are characterized by wide flaps and the price of 16s. Second issues have trimmed flaps and are re-priced at 18s. The publishers of the United States first edition was W. W. Norton in 1963. It’s significance is that it has no final chapter. The dust jacket is identified by the $3.95 price on the front flap of the jacket.
W.W. Norton Company, Inc. published the first US edition of A Clockwork Orange. This was without the final chapter 1963. Additionally the 184-page edition’s dust jacket states its original price of $3.95 on front flap of jacket. It wasn’t until 1987 that Norton published the “New American Edition,” complete with the final chapter.
Further dust jackets were designed after the film release. A memorable design by David Pelham features the cog- eyed and bowler hatted figure. This was used for the paperback edition of the book in 1972. In 2012, Norton published a 50th anniversary edition of the novel featuring the original British cover and six of Burgess’s own illustrations.
Dust jackets that look good on the shelf as well as being of great value certainly ticks the box for The Clockwork Orange. It certainly remains a book that seems to gain value on both points.
Climbing trees, building dens and creating fantasy are common childhood pleasures and adventures. Children’s authors love to write about them. Yet only a select number of authors have managed to capture generations of children with their stories.
Classic children’s authors like Edith Nesbit, J. R.R Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis are writers who have mastered the skill. They cleverly created a world of magic and inverted logic that was entirely their own. Their literature is about children not for children. A way of keeping their inner child alive for the authors. As C.S. Lewis comments, When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.Yet adults secretly also like to read these children’s tales with bedtime reading rituals being the excuse!
The trick of engaging the reader into a journey of childhood adventure is an art that J.R. R Tolkien perfected. Sometimes he writes as a guide to the reader and sometimes he seems to be only a step ahead of the reader. The suspense of the adventure is compelling and artfully employed in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Successful children’s literature must also never shy away from the darker side of life. One of Edith Nesbit’s most popular stories portray the practical and fantastical side of childhood adventures. The Enchanted Castle describes the ghastly tales of creatures in the dark in a magical nightmare. She is not afraid of describing things as they are, including frightening experiences.
C.S. Lewis was a master at engaging adults as well as children into his literature. As he comments, In my own first story I had described at length what I thought a rather fine high tea given by a hospitable faun to the little girl who was my heroine. A man, who has children of his own, said, “Ah, I see how you got to that. If you want to please grown-up readers you give them sex, so you thought to yourself, ‘That won’t do for children, what shall I give them instead? I know! The little blighters like plenty of good eating.” In reality, however, I myself like eating and drinking.I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties. Lewis’s tales of a group of children getting drawn into a world of fantasy adventure in The Chronicles of Narnia remain as appealing to adults as to children.
Writing children’s literature is often best developed when it grows out of a story that has been told by the author to a particular child. Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland adventures were directly meant for Alice Liddell, his child friend. Beatrix Potter’s books were initially written as letters to the children she was governed. The infamous and enduring Babar books of Jean De Brunhof were started with his recording his bedtime stories to his young sons.
Certainly creating a writing style that encourages generations of readers to keep turning to the books for childhood reading and nostalgia is a talent. C.S. Lewis comments, I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. There are certainly a few authors who have achieved that long lasting attraction.
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