I’ve always been an avid reader (although, having just written that sentence, I realise that I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘avid’ in conjunction with anything else. Avid dancer? No. Avid chef? No. Avid dog-walker? Definitely not. Avid reader: yes). When I was growing up, my absolute favourite books to read were anything by Enid Blyton. I devoured them. Swallowed them up wholeheartedly. Avidly, you might say. And one of my most treasured books was a large hardback version of the Enchanted Wood, illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. I don’t have the original book as it was ruined in a flooded garage, but I found another version of it a few years ago and a copy of the Peter Pan I also loved.
Admittedly, the covers aren’t as great as the originals that I once owned, but the illustrations inside are wonderful.
Over the last few years I’ve been slowly building up a collection of vintage Enid Blyton books and the Grahame Johnstone ones.
There’s another fairy tale by the Grahame Johnstone twins somewhere in the house, but can I find it? I’ve looked everywhere I can think of. I found two more on a fairly recent trip out chazzer hunting in Stockport, but I know I’ve got one somewhere that has Sleeping Beauty in it… hmmmm, I’m sure it will turn up but it’s very frustrating.
Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone illustrated hundreds of children’s books; many of which were for the classic Enid Blyton novels. The style is very distinctive – whimsical, a little bit twee, hair is often curled or flowing, heads and limbs depicted at jaunty angles. Fairies, toadstools, elves, brownies, pixies and other magical or fantastical creatures often appear. Looking through our books, my favourites are still the pictures from The Enchanted Wood and Peter Pan. Probably because I grew up reading them and spending hours looking at the pictures, trying to copy them in my own drawing (not successfully, I should add). I feel a little bit like they are pictures of old friends that I’ve not seen for a while.
Aidan can’t understand why I love these pictures so much. Yeah, okay, they don’t have the smooth lines of mid century illustration; the bold graphics or striking, primary colours. But they are very much of their era and show a distinctive style that’s immediately recognisable.
I imagined myself having a nanny dog like Nana:
But unfortunately, I don’t think it was within the skill set of any of our dogs to brush our hair, get us dressed or catch our shadows. Jump on our bed to wake us up – they could manage that one!
Looking back at the pictures now, I can see the appeal even more to children. They clearly show a point in the story – you don’t need to be able to read the words to understand what is happening. If I’d had more patience, I probably could have organised these pictures in order and you’d have got the gist of Peter Pan by the end of the post!
I think in some of the faces of the characters shown, you can see the influence of ‘Big Eyes’ artists such as Margaret Keane. It’s also interesting to see the pink striped pyjamas for John (easy International World Book day costume for Dexter in the future, I think) and the wonderful leafy nightdress that Peter wears.
This version of Tinkerbell captures some of her slightly spiteful nature more accurately than the Disney version:
I desperately wanted a bedroom like hers as a child. Just look at it:
I can remember drawing versions of this room, colouring them in, tracing this picture, imagining myself with a tiny, flowery quilt. Look at the cobweb curtains! This is what fairies should look like, in my opinion. It makes them seem a little more real somehow; well, realistic at least. Obviously, I believed in fairies as a child and was convinced that all of the ‘furniture’ I made for them from various leaves, twigs and acorn cups were taken away to furnish their tiny houses. Corliss is now convinced they are real as well thanks to a fairy door given to her by my mum. The ‘fairy’ leaves her things behind the door every now and then, and Corliss leaves letters, pictures and random things behind it for the fairy to take home. We did have this conversation the other day though:
Corliss: “Mummy, are fairies real?”
Me: “What do you think?”
Corliss: “Well, are they real like you and me or real like Santa?”
Me: (panicking slightly) “What do you think?”
Corliss: “Wee-eelll…. they leave me stuff all the time, so they must be real.
Oh Peter! One of my first childhood loves. Along with Dogtanian and the foxy Robin Hood. In my defence, I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to fancy characters from books and cartoon animals. And I was eight.
Many of the books the Grahame Johnstone sisters illustrated were published by Deans books. Both versions of Peter Pan that I’ve owned have been, and so are all the Enid Blyton’s I have. They’re marked either as DEAN or Dean & Son on the spine.
As strong as my love of Peter Pan, my desperate wish to have Tinkerbell’s bedroom was or the jealousy of Wendy and her friendship with Peter; none of these feelings came close to the fear I felt about this man:
I was petrified of this picture! It still makes me feel a bit funny to look at it now. Not as much as this one though:
It was the creepy looking fella hiding behind the tree in the middle. I’ve no idea what he’s supposed to be, but he still gives me the shivers now. I do love the toadstools and Captain Hooks bombastic lacy boots in that picture though.
I’m really enjoying sharing the stories with Corliss, as she’s now old enough to listen to them and enjoy the pictures too. She seems to particularly like the Enchanted Wood at the moment, so I’ll share some pictures from that one in the future too.