This is a space for me to scribble down some “First Thoughts” about what nature looks like in culture. Because it’s a blog, it will primarily be about the “culture” that I walk past or walk into everyday; things I see an experience that touch on my daily life, which is about how most personal blogs go, as far as I can tell from peering through one or two windows into the vast blogosphere. And because it is a personal blog, because it is mine, Laurie Ormond’s, it’s also going to be (occasionally) about fairies.
It would be difficult to write a post about fairies that was not, in some way, also a post about nature, or about how we have thought about nature at some point in time.
I might have heard about fairies first from books, but I met fairies and lived with them in my head when I was outside, in schools’ grounds and in gardens, on the edge of the rainforest or looking up to the tops of mountains.
Still, the books had a pretty heavy impact on the kinds of place I would have considered the likely habitat of fairies. And those places looked like this:
Nothing to me has ever seemed quite as definitive a picture of fairy-land as those by Victorian-born illustrator Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. That’s not to say that I was not also a native of the Shirley Barber landscape. And fairy horses, naturally, looked like Rainbow Brite’s Starlight:
while fairy palaces must be as magically impregnable as the Palace of Lady Lovely Locks:
Fairyland at first glance is tinted by 80s Technicolour, on the whole, though, fairyland was illustrated by black-and-white line-drawings (especially those in my Reader’s Digest collection of “The World’s Best Fairy Tales”), the kind that seem to capture a moment of movement, the kind that, like the best writing, make a scene all the more real for your ability to distinguish the individual scratches of a pen. The cross-hatchings on Deirdre’s dress convey the feel of fine cloth against fair skin more than any of Barber’s beautifully tinted gauzes. Line-drawings, like the sparse telling of folk-tales themselves, are true illustrations because they leave so much room for the imagination.
Although my favourite illustrator to capture the stark but exotic nature of the choices you get offered in a fairy tale is definitely Jan Pienkowski, whose sillhoutettes draw you into the story more deeply than any glitteringly sharpened coloured pencil…
It never bothered me that so many of the landscapes were not particularly Australian ones – I approved of landscapes and gardens if they were romantic and fantastic enough – this did not exclude Australian plants, because when I was little I don’t remember knowing the difference; I never knew one plant as native and another as introduced, or one plant as a weed from another state and another one as part of the local habitat. I still think of the spicy smell of lantana as the smell of the rainforest, because it, vociferous weed, clamours noisily at the edges of the rainforest’s deeply textured and quieter dark greens.
To me at eight (and let’s be honest, although more secretly, through to about 15) the FNQ rainforest – or the edges of it that I visited – were a perfect setting for the medievalist fairy courts and spaces of adventure that lived in these books and in my head.