A Lisbeth-Zwerger Moment

h1 July 28th, 2015 by jules


“Every afternoon, as they were coming from school,
the children used to go and play in the Giant’s garden.
It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. …”


 

Because Lisbeth Zwerger has always been one of my favorite illustrators, including one of the artists who made me want to study children’s literature, and because seeing her artwork improves the very quality of my day (and yours, I hope), I have a bit of art today from Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, as illustrated by Zwerger.

Zwerger originally illustrated this story back in 1984, but Minedition has released a new edition (April of this year). In fact, it’s called a “mini-Minedition,” because the book has a tiny trim size.

“The Selfish Giant” is Oscar Wilde’s classic short story, first published in 1888 in Wilde’s own collection of original fairy tales, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. The story itself is a heavily didactic Christian allegory, all about a giant whose garden is visited by neighboring children, while the giant is away. The children play in the garden, unbeknownst to the stingy man (depicted as a very tall man in Zwerger’s version), and when he discovers them, he shoos them away — only to discover afterwards that his garden is dying. It’s a curious little fairy tale, and now I can’t help but think of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming every time I read it. In her memoir, Woodson she writes about the impact this story made on her as a girl:

The first time my teacher reads the story to the class
I cry all afternoon, and am still crying
when my mother gets home from work that evening. …

(I hope that quote is accurate, as I loaned my copy of the book to a dear friend, but I am fairly certain, thanks to the internet, that the above is correct.)

Zwerger’s illustrations are restrained and lyrical and, as always, graceful. Here are a few more.


“The only people who were pleased were the Snow and the Frost. ‘Spring has forgotten this garden,’ they cried,’ so we will live here all the year round.’ The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the tree silver.
Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. …”


 


“And when the people were going to market at twelve o’clock they found the Giant playing with the children in the most beautiful garden they had ever seen. …”


 


“And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, ‘You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.’
And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead
under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.”


 



 

* * * * * * *

THE SELFISH GIANT. Illustrations copyright © 1984 by Lisbeth Zwerger. English edition published 2015 by Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd., Hong Kong. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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