Classic books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stay in our memories because of the brilliant story-lines and the magnificent writing. But they are almost etched into our sub-conscious due to the way they were beautifully illustrated.
The illustrations in the classic books of all time have helped to augment the narrative and embellish the story so that it is ingrained in our brains. Parts of the book will immediately spring to mind in the format of a picture and not the description in words.
The Golden Age of Illustrated Books
The golden age of the illustrated novel has left us with a legacy of superb art, and the drawings are in many ways just as important as the text. For example when trying to picture the Mad Hatter, in Lewis Carrol’s epic story, our minds go straight back to the illustrations by John Tenniel.
The same goes for some of the Dickensian characters that George Cruikshank brilliantly created. After plowing through some of Charles Dickens complicated narratives it was always a pleasure to come across an illustration to help you identify the character.
However, with the demise of the illustrated novel we have been robbed of this extra special dimension to our reading experience. There seems to be a common consensus among the literary world that there is no longer a place for illustrations in literary fiction. But the inevitable question comes to mind, Why not? Why are illustrations suddenly thought of as irrelevant? Obviously, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens did not agree with this theory.
It must be said that in the times of Victorian literature, cartoons were a highly fashionable and popular genre of expressing a point of view. Dramatic political events were described in the press often in terms of a cartoon, so there were many great illustrators practicing their trade in periodicals.
Illustrators such as William Hogarth used comic drawing to depict lessons in morality. And the author William Thackeray also illustrated his own works, it was an age of great illustrators and artists. As opposed to today when the art of illustration seems to be dying. But if you were to lobby modern fiction writers, most would agree that visual representations in tandem with their narrative would be a great way to emphasize parts of their stories. So why is the art dying?
To a large extent the seedy side of finance rears its ugly head in supplying us with an answer. As in any commercial market, literature face fierce competition with other types of entertainment. Cost is the driving factor behind the loss of illustrations.
Both the cost of employing an artist and the end cost of the actual book. But is this a wise decision? Throughout history people have always paid for what they think something is worth. Such as luxury items, cost is not a consideration. That is how we should see illustrated fiction books: yes, they are somewhat of a luxury but our experience of reading the book is heightened by the illustrations, so bring back illustrated books seems to be the answer.