Our last blog post mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories and today I came across Harry Clarke’s fairy tale illustrations over at But Does It Float. Clarke’s illustrations appeared in a 1916 edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, informed by his studies in stained glass. Comparison of a window he designed depicting Saint Patrick preaching to his disciples–commissioned in 1925 for St. Michael’s Church in Ballinaslo–and the designs of his book illustrations, the style remains constant, caught betwixt the passing of Art Nouveau and the arrival of Art Deco. The illustrations are as mystical and wonderful as the fairy tales themselves–evoking that feeling of hidden secrets and wonder teeming around each corner in the land of Faerie.
In The Ethics of Elfland, the fourth chapter of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, the author explores that sense of wonder which is seemingly absent from the world and motions we mechanically move through in our day-to-day lives. The “noble and healthy principles” that arise from fairy tales, he writes, attempts to retain that sense of wonder by asking readers to view the world with a renewed outlook: Our existence is a miracle. Why must fairy tale language be reserved only for these stories which are left in the nursery as we grow into adults? The world in which we inhabit has a magic to it–divine magic, in fact–and Chesterton calls attention to the need for a renewal of awe and wonder to the miracle that is our universe.
On his reverence of the organization of the universe in The Ethics of Elfland, Chesterton writes:
But I really felt (the fancy may seem foolish) as if all the order and number of things were the romantic remnant of Crusoe’s ship. That there are two sexes and one sun, was like the fact that there were two guns and one axe. It was poignantly urgent that none should be lost; but somehow, it was rather fun that none could be added. The trees and the planets seemed like things saved from the wreck: and when I saw the Matterhorn I was glad that it had not been overlooked in the confusion. I felt economical about the stars as if they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton’s Eden): I hoarded the hills. For the universe is a single jewel, and while it is a natural cant to talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel it is literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price: for there cannot be another one.
In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.
I hope you reserve that same sense of pleasant bewilderment you feel whilst looking at Harry Clark illustrations and apply it to the miraculous world around you.