Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors.
This illustration, included inside of Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Tale Book collection of fairy tales, depicts a somewhat lesser-known story, “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” which is also featured in many Brothers Grimm collections. The piece, created by H.J. Ford in 1889, is representative of the visual style that many of us might think of when we think of “older” fairy tales—as in, those not re-envisioned by a company like Disney. H.J. ford illustrated many of Lang’s books—which remain some of the more popular collections, even now—thus cementing this visual style alongside many readers’ recollections of these stories.
In 1970, English illustrator and painter David Hockney was commissioned by the British Royal Academy of Arts to create visuals to accompany six Brothers Grimm tales, including “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.” Hockney was well-known as a member of the “Pop art” movement in the 1960s, and that inspiration seems apparent here, with the slightly unrealistic/cartoon-like depiction of the boy, and the degree of abstraction. We are still working in contrast-heavy black-and-white, but the progression of artistic sensibilities between the late 19th Century and mid-20th is clear. Other items of note: explicit 2D-ness as a nod to fairy-tale flatness, and the sheer lack of fear in the boy’s eyes.
Shaun Tan, an Australian artist, was asked only a few years ago by the publisher of Philip Pullman’s recent collection of 50 Brothers Grimm fairy tales, to create visuals for the German edition of the book. Tan worked with clay, papier mache, paper, soapstone, and more to create an entirely different kinds of visual accompaniments to class Grimm tales—here, yet another interpretation of “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” where the boy is made to sleep beneath a gallows where seven men hang; the boy even takes the bodies down to help warm them up, but when they don’t move, even to keep their clothes from catching on fire, the boy hangs them back up. The casualness of reading a book beneath dead bodies: 120 years later and it seems the boy has yet to learn his lesson on fear.
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Fairy Tale Review Managing Editor Joel Hans.