We intend to continue our discussion of narrative in Tolkien in our next, but heavy with the baskets of jelly beans and peeps we’ve consumed pre-Easter, we thought we’d daydream with you a little this week. Our focus in this blog is a picture we have displayed once before. It is by N.C. Wyeth and was the cover of the March 1922 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal.
Remembering all of N.C. Wyeth’s pictures of pirates, like this one:
we could certainly see this as one of that thematic family– a Spanish galleon being attacked by tiny pirate longboats.
Here’s a cutaway of one such galleon by the wonderfully talented Stephen Biesty. And here is what they are attacking the ship for (and who wouldn’t?):
It’s clearly a very powerful image: the boy daydreaming of adventure on the high seas. What interests us, however, beyond the evocative nature of the image, is to take a closer look at what the boy has in front of him, and to realize that the book is opened not to a picture, but to print. Thus, what so stirs the boy’s imagination is not a an illustration by, say, Wyeth’s teacher, Howard Pyle,
but the written text which such a picture would have accompanied during that golden era of book illustration, just at the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th centuries. And something else strikes us: is this a self-portrait of Wyeth himself as a boy, stirred, as we know he was, by stories of adventure? Compare these two pictures (the one on the right is the earliest picture we could find of Wyeth– dated 1903, so he’s about 21).
If it really is a retro self-portrait, then we have an extra level of narrative:
1. a boy, lost in the written word of an adventure story, day-dreaming of pirates
2. not just any boy, but Wyeth the painter–could we be looking at Wyeth depicting that moment when he decided that he would like to illustrate such stories himself?
What do you think, dear readers? The only thing we could wish was that there was a companion picture, in which a girl of 1922 was reading the same book and having the same daydream!
And thanks, as always, for reading,