Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Joan Kiddell-Monroe's illustrations in "Chinese Myths and Fantasies"

Chinese Myths and Fantasies was published in 1961 by Henry Z. Walck. It contains retellings of folklore tales by Cyril Birch, an England-born author and professor who I believe is still alive at age 97, based on what I can find online. He's still listed as the Louis B. Agassiz Professor Emeritus in the Department of East Asian Languages at the University of California, Berkeley, after retiring in 1990.

Chinese Myths and Fantasies is split into three sections: The Conquerors of Chaos; Fairies, Ghosts and Others; and The Revolt of the Demons. The best story title, by far, is "The Man Who Nearly Became Fishpaste." 

This book is a discard, probably long ago, from the public library system in Niagara Falls, New York. I understand the need to discard books and keep the finite shelves of libraries stocked with books that people want and need, but it's a shame that this book isn't still on a shelf for some young person to discover while browsing; it's really quite timeless and beautiful. Which brings us to the illustrations of Joan Kiddell-Monroe (1908-1972). The book features a combination of gorgeous color illustrations, done in shades of blue and brown, and smaller line drawings.
Kiddell-Monroe illustrated the initial books in the Oxford Myths and Legends series, which spanned tales from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Scandinavia, Russia, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Germany and Japan. The books have remained in print, but unfortunately not always with the original illustrations. On 50 Watts Books, Will Schofield writes, "When Oxford and other publishers sporadically reprinted these volumes after 1978, they cut the color illustrations completely (not even including black-and-white copies), which means they are forgotten and will probably remain forgotten. Some of the reprints use new illustrations. Most of the books are easy enough to find (especially as library discards), but you have to pay attention to the dates. American publishers — notably Zalck — sometimes brought out editions simultaneously with Oxford. All of the 60s and early 70s Zalck issues I have seen include the color illustrations."1

Here are some examples of Kiddell-Monroe's wonderful work in Chinese Myths and Fantasies: 
You can see some of Kiddell-Monroe's work with a different genre of books on this 2017 post at The Passing Tramp.

Getting back to Chinese Myths and Fantasies, there are a handful of great reviews/memories on Goodreads, but this one, posted by Mauve Guava almost exactly a year ago, is my favorite: "One of my favourite books during my early teens. A bottle of coke, Garibaldi biscuits, Chinese Myths and Fantasies was a taste of heaven and beyond. Simply transports you to magical faraway lands."

1. 50watts.com is a fabulous website that received praise in a 2011 article in The Atlantic by Steven Heller, who wrote about the idea of curatorial blogs as the new museums. An excerpt: "Many blogs are indeed galleries in the cloud, extending interest with artifacts where traditional museums and libraries will not venture. ... I've admired a few of these troves, and the most engaging, for its obsession with bibliographic graphics—book covers, jackets, and illustrations—is called 50 Watts and curated by Will Schofield, a 34-year-old bibliomaniac. ... There is no organizing principle, though the posts tend to group themselves together: book covers, ephemera, weird kids' books, features on forgotten writers, artists' books, contemporary drawing."

Bonus outtake on the rigors 
of blogging with 17 cats

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