What do you do when you are one month away from turning 20 and less than a week and a half away from moving across the Atlantic? Well, in my experience, you binge read Harry Potter books. Call it escapism. Yes, there is a lot of packing to do, but I did toss a few things into a suitcase several days ago which seems like a legitimate start and enough of an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation to justify plunging into fiction for a bit. Last Sunday, my brother and I raced through Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in about 3.5 hours, thoroughly enjoying seeing the next generation of J.K. Rowling’s incredible cast of characters. Though it is a very different format than the novels, the script is well written and exciting in its own right as a continuation of the stories we grew up loving.
Earlier this year, I wrote this post in which I paired some of my favorite books with songs that shared the same themes or style. Since that was such a hit (which is to say I had at least three people tell me they liked it very much), I decided to add a similar installment, but this time pairing books with artworks. It is a bit like choosing cover art, I suppose, so without further ado, here we go.
The Poems of Emily Dickinson and photographs by Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier was the predecessor of modern street photography, so why pair her work with that of a woman who spent so much time cloistered in her own attic that she was known as The Ghost of Amherst? This pairing is less of a case of shared material and more of a match of kindred spirits. While watching the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which tells the story of the mysterious discovery of Maier’s massive body of photographic work and explores her equally mysterious and hidden life, I found that Maier’s fascination with the macabre which led her to collect thousands of newspaper clippings of grisly ironies and her introspective attitude reminded me of another talent whose work also was not discovered or appreciated until after her death, Emily Dickinson. Dickinson’s poems often express her view of the world as oppressive yet divine; likewise, Maier’s photos tend to present images of people foregrounded against the overwhelming city streets in intimate glimpses of individuality.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Casper David Friedrich’s The Abbey in the Oak Forest
When we looked at this painting in my art history course I thought it looked rather familiar. I later realized that I had seen it before, on my copy of Frankenstein. It was a perfect selection of cover art: both Shelley and Friedrich were part of the Romantic Movement with a concentration on the dark shadows of human nature found in Gothic Revival. The broken trees climbing above the ruined church seem as if they could very well be hiding Frankenstein’s monster, an assault against nature and divinity, in their deep shadows.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series and Durer and Hollar’s animal studies
Animals are integral to the magical universe of Harry Potter; whether in the form of a patronus or animagus or just as a means of carrying messages, they are always there as characters and symbols. Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer and, a century later, Wenceslaus Hollar created some beautiful images of animals, which portray a sensitivity and majesty that really does seem like wizardry.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination and Harry Clarke’s Illustrations
If I had to choose a favorite artist of all time, it would almost certainly be Harry Clarke. Clarke was an Irish stained glass window designer and book illustrator working in the early part of the 20th century. He created decadently detailed illustrations for the works of Poe, Hamlet, Faust, and many fairy tales. The top image is the climatic scene from “The Fall of the House of Usher” but I do not know which story the second illustration is taken from. While his subject matter is typically rather dark, I love the detailed, fanciful textures and patterns Clarke uses, which I would guess were inspired by his window designs. Just look at the complexity of the second image! Stunning.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his own illustrations
Little known fact: J.R.R. Tolkien did his own illustrations for his stories of Middle Earth! If he had already made up a few languages and a creation story, why not just go the extra mile and illustrate all of it too. Naturally, there couldn’t be a better pairing of word and image than one crafted by the author himself.
Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd and Jean-Francois Millet’s The Haystacks, Autumn
As sheep and haystacks are very important elements in Hardy’s classic novel, this painting is a fine match. I especially appreciate the storm clouds gathering in the background, which also evoke some rather exciting scenes from the story. Millet’s eye-level perspective places the viewer in the scene, almost as if we are seeing through the eyes of Hardy’s characters.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved and J.M.W. Turner’s The Slaveship
In the second half of Morrison’s novel, the title character, Beloved, her mother, and her sister each give a sort of stream-of-consciousness chapter. Beloved, who ominously materialized at the beginning of the novel yet still carries the markers of a deeper, older mystery, recalls abstract, violent images. Her strange and nightmarish memories seem to be shadows of a slave ship crossing the Middle Passage. As in Beloved’s disjointed and un-punctuated monologue, the realistically horrific details of the abandoned captives in Turner’s picture are masked by striking, emotional splotches of color.