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Leisure - Music and Nature

048indragonsformfafnernowwatchesthehoardsiegfriedThroughout his long career, Rackham also illustrated a variety of works related to leisure activities, with an emphasis on musical tales. Of these, his best-known were the illustrations for Richard Wagner's Ring series: The Rhinegold; and the Valkyrie (1910); and Siegfried; and The Twilight of the Gods (1911). These works were inspired by not only his travels to Germany, Italy, and the Alps, and by his fondness for German literature and language. The two books were an important achievement, for they demonstrate some of Rackham's most creative work from his earlier period. For instance, his title page for The Rhinegold shows testy-looking Nibelungs supporting the weight of the ring as well as the Rhine maidens, and has been described as "a brilliantly successful and truly inventive design."1 Moreover, these illustrations had a longlasting influence over some of the twentieth century's most significant literary imaginations. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were profoundly affected by them. Lewis wrote about his first encounter with the pictures in Surprised by Joy, suggesting that to him they seemed "to be the very music made visible."2 Tolkien was clearly influenced by Siegfried for his own drawing of the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit (1938), which shares marked similarities with Rackham's Fafner.
Rackham's other ventures into music, such as his illustrations for Some British Ballads (1919) and Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1936), lack the power of his work on Wagner. Some British Ballads is far from his strongest work. The pictures are of uneven quality and often lack the well-defined lines and rich use of color of his other works. Similarly, although Peer Gynt received reasonable reviews, it is more remarkable for its endpapers and cover page, designed in a similar scratchy style to the cover of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, than for any of its illustrations.
Rackham was a passionate fly-fisherman, and in 1931 he illustrated Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, which was released in a deluxe edition. Although he played it safe with these illustrations, following a practice similar to that he employed in The Vicar of Wakefield in terms of landscapes and period dress, his black-and-white sketches throughout the book are quite remarkable. The ink sketch of a fish on the head-piece to chapter twelve shows his intimate knowledge of his subject, while a whimsical sketch of a seahorse suggests the more playful side of Rackham's nature.
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Much earlier, Rackham had contributed cover designs and head- and tail-pieces to a series entitled The Haddon Hall Library. Launched in 1899, the nine books in the series focused on such outdoor pastimes as gardening, hunting, fly-fishing, farming, and bird-watching. In their preface to the series, printed in Edward Grey's Fly Fishing (1899), the editors state their hope that the series "will not only help to fill up such gaps as there may be in the mass of practical information on wild creatures and on sports . . . . but also that its contributors will succeed in describing their different pursuits with the true sympathy of those who love the open air, and who decline to regard sport solely from the destructive point of view, whilst greatly valuing it as a healthy feature of our country life."3 Certainly Rackham's contributions met this objective. His head-piece for chapter two of Fly Fishing shows details of not only the net but also the fish on the bank and the fisherman's bag.
1 Hudson, Arthur Rackham, 94.
2 Gettings, Arthur Rackham, 127.
3 Edward Grey, Fly Fishing (London: Dent, 1899), vi-vii.