Saturday, 6 June 2009

Not on the shelf: Mabel Lucie Attwell

One of the first sets of children’s book illustrations that really caught my attention when I was a child was Mabel Lucie Attwell’s drawings for ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ by J.M. Barrie from 1921. The combination of Barrie’s ideas and Attwell’s visualisation of them led me into my imagination like nothing else had before. I still remember lying awake at night thinking about shadows after seeing this drawing, which shows Wendy sewing Peter’s shadow back on to his feet after he lost it.
When I was at college I found out just how uncool it was to like Mabel Lucie Attwell’s work; in fact it was a taste-crime punishable by derision. It was held up as second-rate sentimental garbage, the word ‘twee’ having been invented specifically to describe it. But her best work, before she turned into an industry, has warmth and sympathy rather than sentimentality. Her Peter Pan illustrations are said to be the basis for Disney’s animated version and all her work, especially the twee stuff, was very popular.
I don’t own a copy of this book - the one I was enthralled by probably came from the local library – so I’ve nicked this drawing from the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive blog where you can see more images from it, including the cover and a bizarre image of Wendy polishing a toadstool entitled ‘When Wendy Grew Up’. The full text of the book, if you don’t know it off by heart, is on Gutenberg here.

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