Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heaven Elf Us: Subversive Images From Elf-World

by Stephen J. Gertz


From: DOD, Office of Small Arms Procurement

To: All Military Personnel

Re: Threat Alert

Recent satellite images of a distant land with no latitude or longitude have been thoroughly analyzed. Small arms, as well as legs and everything else, are a specialty of this strange culture of precious beings who toil all day doing nothing but lazing around on leaves and mushroom cap Barcaloungers, gettin' jiggy with it in tulip bowls, talking to birds, and when the winged-ones, members of the Elvian Air Force, are called to service, buzzing around humans, tapping them on the shoulder with a standard-issue PW-16 pixie-wand and offering unsolicited, subversive advice of the teeny fortune-cookie ilk, Elf-Land Roses undermining our troops' morale.

They fuel their decadent lifestyle with Fairy Dust aka, Elvian Flying Powder, adapted as Elvian Marching Powder for the infantry, whose preferred offensive tactic is to crawl inside the pants legs of innocent  citizens, then, using leg hairs as pitons, scale upward, detour the groin, and proceed directly to the ears, where they  swing on loop earrings as if daring young men on the flying trapeze. 

The images confirm earlier sightings at the time considered the fanciful imaginings of adult children, the most significant and celebrated being those found within In Fairyland, a classified report originally written and illustrated by undercover operatives of MI6 and boldly exposed and published for public consumption in London by Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer in 1870. 

The perpetrators were illustrator Richard ["Dickie"] Doyle (1824-1883) "nineteen when he joined the staff of Punch, for which he designed the first cover" (Osborne, vol. I, p. 442); he also designed the Punch masthead, used for over a century afterward. His father, John Doyle, was the noted Irish political caricaturist who signed his work, "H.B." 

Doyle collaborated with John Leech, W.C. Stanfield and other artists to co-illustrate three of Charles Dickens' five Christmas books, The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845) and The Battle of Life (1846). After the success of In Fairyland he went on to illustrate a string of fantasy-themed books.

The writer, "William Allingham (1824-1889) was an Irish poet who became a friend of Leigh Hunt and was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood by Coventry Patmore" (Osborne, vol. I, p. 50).

"It is generally felt that Richard Doyle rose to his greatest heights with the graceful clusters of humanized and sentimentalized but endearing little elves he created for In Fairyland. In the case of this book the pictures preceded the text, a situation not uncommon in the history of illustrated children's books.

"The Irish poet William Allingham wrote verses to accompany Doyle's colorful fantasies. Edmund Evans produced the colored engravings; they are among the very finest examples of his work. Doyle's illustrations for In Fairyland were used again, in 1884, to illustrate Princess Nobody, an original fairy tale for children by Andrew Lang. This is the first edition of In Fairyland" (Morgan Library, Early Children's Books).

"Doyle's most sought-after book is the folio, In Fairyland - Pictures from the Elf-World, 1870 (second edition 1875), a masterpiece of book illustration and an outstanding example of the colour printing of the equally well-known Edmund Evans (1826-1905), a craftsman whose work for Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, and other[s]... put him at the top of his profession. In Fairyland... is one of the finest books ever produced for children, and from the collector's point of view a most desirable item to add to any library of juvenile works, especially copies in the original green, morocco-grained, full-cloth bindings, pictorially blocked in gold on the front cover..." (Quayle, The Collector's Book of Children's Books, p. 41).

"In Fairyland has 16-colour plates, several of them with more than one subject on a page, and there is not a bad one among them. It was a small folio, with a charming binding, also designed by Doyle, and Edmund Evans surpassed himself in the printing of the blocks..." (Muir, Victorian Illustrated Books, p. 102).

All field officers are requested to be on alert. Copies of In Fairyland in the original pictorially gilt-stamped cloth binding are difficult to find in decent condition. The binding is typically distressed and plates are often heavily spotted and smudged due to age and playroom battlefield conditions.

A rare, fine copy.

The book is a must for all interested in the power of creatures equipped with small arms to charm big readers onto submission.

DOYLE, Richard (illustrator). ALLINGHAM, William (text). In Fairyland. Pictures from the Elf-World. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1870.

First edition, published December 1869 yet post-dated 1870, as typical of British publishing during the 19th century. Folio (14 7/8 x 10 5/8 in; 378 x 269 mm). [8], 31, [1] pp, printed on rectos only. Frontispiece and fifteen wood-engraved plates printed in color by Edmund Evans, many plates with three-four vignettes each. Miscellaneous black and white line illustrations, including title-page.

Green morocco-grained cloth pictorially stamped and lettered in gilt. Elaborately gilt-decorated spine. All edges gilt. Pale yellow-coated end-papers.

Morgan 168.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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