How the Whale Became by
illustrated by Jackie Morris
published by Faber and Faber
(also published USA, Orchard Books, and in Korea)
How the Whale Became is a
series of creation stories from the poet laureate, Ted Hughes. Written
in the early sixties when he and his wife were living in Spain, they
are dedicated to their two children, Nicholas and Frieda.
The stories are rich and diverse and full of humor and pathos.
I first came across this
book during a conversation with James Mayhew, author of
Can You See a Little Bear, and many other books. It had been a favorite
of his when he was growing up, and he sent me a copy and suggested that
if I liked it I should send some of my work to Ted Hughes and ask him
if I could illustrate the book for him. It was at the time a small paperback
with line drawings, and the stories were so rich it was crying out for
I had a letter back from Ted Hughes saying, very modestly, that they
were always looking for artists for his "little books" so
he would pass my information on to his publisher. And then while I was
working on Mariana and the Merchild, listening to the radio, I heard
that he had died. Days later his editor, Suzy Jenvy phoned to ask if
I was still interested in the project as he had brought my work in and
they had discussed it and she very much wanted to follow it through.
I worked with a wonderful designer, Sarah Hodder, and read and reread
these stories so many times. I had a tape of Ted Hughes reading them
in his wonderful voice and this was an eerie experience as he read the
stories to me while I painted the pictures. And my children fell in
love with the stories too, and the two subsequent books, Dreamfighter
and other Creation Tales, and Tales from the Early World. Ted Hughes
wrote these stories for his children, Nicholas and Frieda. I illustrated
them for mine, Tom and Hannah.
My favorite story changes depending on how I feel. Sometimes I identify
with Donkey, who want to be something else and struggles hard but ends
up safe and warm in his stall, just Donkey. Sometimes with evil Owl
who leads the songbirds through dark tunnels and tricks them into a
world of darkness where they never sing. Sometimes Elephant, who is
noble and brave and strong.
Some of the animals in the
book were animal I knew. I went to Solva to draw a tortoise, and discovered
just how fast they can move when you want them to be still!. The black
and white dog, Foursquare, was a friends dog, Mouse, a naughty old collie.
The cat is our own cat Max, who often lies on his back and plays the
violin. The chicken once lived in my garden until one day they met the
same fate as the chickens in the book. And God's house is my neighbours
Pembrokeshire cottage by the sea. He also grows carrots in his garden.
From The Guardian, May 31,
2000. "Ted Hughes's inventive creation fables, sometimes sly and
humorous and sometimes lyrical,were first published in 1963. But they
have never been seen like this before. This exquisite new edition provides
illustrations whose rich, grave, muted, almost medieval beauty are in
perfect harmony with the deceptive simplicity of the words"
From Gillian Clarke in the
Times Ed Supplement 14 April 2000. "..a ravishingly illustrated
new edition of a book first published in 1963....The text, and Jackie
Morris's light-rinsed landscapes, her painterly washes, her animals
as breathingly, quiveringly real as Hughes makes them in words, make
this a book well worth its price"
From Financial Times, April
2000. "The master of animal imagery, Ted Hughes, wrote the creation
stories in How the Whale Became for his own children. This grand new
edition from Faber has pictures by Jackie Morris which manage to match
Hughes's spirituality and grandiloquence...."
The book was out of print for a while but has now been reissued by Frances Lincoln in a lovely paperback edition at £9.99. There are sometimes first editions still available through second hand online bookstores.
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