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Fairy Tales

Rackham had a particular love for fairy tales, and he revered those of Hans Christian Andersen to the extent that he thought they had been "so beautifully told that no one yet wished to improve or edit a single word."1 However, when it came to the way in which Andersen's tales had been illustrated, he clearly felt quite differently. Throughout his career, Rackham illustrated no fewer than eleven collections of fairy tales, many of which were versions written by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and his beloved Andersen, as well as versions of such tales as Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Grethel.
Of the collections, his best known were the previously discussed Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen and The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book, along with James Stephens's Irish Fairy Tales and several collections by the Brothers Grimm. The most significant of the latter was Rackham's The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909), which was first published in 1900 with his cover design, endpapers, frontispiece, title page, and ninety-nine black-and-white drawings. It was reissued in a deluxe edition in 1909 with forty color plates and forty-five black-and-white drawings.
Overall the quality of the illustrations is uneven. Some of Rackham's typical rich color and detail appears in Ashenputtel's ball gown as well as in the portrayal of the witch facing Hansel and Gretel, but others have a muddier quality; one picture from "Hans in Luck" looks downright murky, while not a trace of fancy appears in "Jorinda and Jorindel." His illustrations for the Grimms's Little Brother and Little Sister (1917) were far more consistent, and include his classic elements of pre-Raphaelite maidens and anthropomorphized trees, as in his illustration from "The Old Woman in the Wood" where the branches twine around the maiden as the tree becomes human.
Two other interesting collections are Flora Annie Steel's English Fairy Tales (1918), which shows Rackham's ever-developing use of silhouette, and James Stephens's Irish Fairy Tales (1920). The latter was considered one of Rackham's best works of the 1920s, particularly because of its Celtic flavor. At times Rackham's borders merge with an illustration, which has the effect of drawing the reader's eye into the picture gradually and creating an aesthetic whole.
Rackham's illustrations of two individual fairy tales belong among his masterpieces: C. S. Evans's retellings of Cinderella (1919) and The Sleeping Beauty (1920). Cinderella was the most unusual. With the exception of the color frontispiece the illustrations are rendered entirely in silhouette, which marks the first time Rackham depended entirely on this technique. The title page shows Cinderella at her window, framed by silhouettes of black, gold, and pink-and-red mice and lizards; elsewhere in the book an impressive double-page silhouette in black-and-white shows Cinderella changing from her frumpy clothing into a ball gown, holding the back of her dress's bustle in one hand and a needle in the other, and displaying one foot bare and the other slippered. Rackham used the same style in The Sleeping Beauty, but he refined some of his contrasts between black-and-white; moreover, his drawing that begins chapter one is exquisite, with a color illustration of Briar Rose surrounded by overgrown leaves in silhouette.
1 Arthur Rackham, The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book: A Book of Old Favourites with New Illustrations (London: George G. Harrap, 1933), "Illustrator's Preface," 6.