Thursday, August 29, 2013

Storytelling with Pictures

There's a lot of focus on the written form of storytelling on Spinning Straw into Gold, but literary tales are a fairly recent addition to the folklore pool.  Oral storytelling is the origin of many beloved fairy tales.  Storytelling in pictures is another traditional medium.  Done well, it can capture the imagination just as effectively as words, as one can see through the life's work of Dutch painter Rien Poortvliet.



I grew up watching David the Gnome, a quietly magical children's cartoon from the days when Nick Jr. (Nickelodeon) was an unlikely treasure trove of foreign culture.  A few years later, a book appeared in our library collection titled The Book of the Sandman.  As a teen, the similarities between these illustrations and what I remembered of David led me to seek out Rien Poortvliet's books on gnomes.


It was everything I remembered of my beloved children's show and more.  I was delighted to learn that the qualities which drew me to the animated series were rooted directly in the books.  Poortvliet approaches his mythical subjects as one writing a field guide, creating a layer of authenticity reminiscent of what one finds researching oral traditions in rural areas of old Europe.  Look at the sketchy quality of his paintings subtitled with inky scribblings:

field notes?

Poortvliet's knowledge of the natural world and talent in reproducing it to paper make the fantastic both mysterious and familiar--mysterious because of the successful representation of the secret silence of nature, and familiar due to its lovingly accurate portrayal.  One would expect to glimpse the following scene on a casual summer stroll in the mountains.

hard at work

His books don't talk down to children, either.  There's reference to history and science, with vocabulary to match.  Poortvliet's determination to immerse the reader in an utterly believable world is one of the unique charms of his storytelling.  Whatever the chthonic creature--be it gnome, troll, or sandman--he takes great pains to record logical explanations for the roles and habits of his subject.

The courtesy he pays his fairy tale folk by taking them seriously, for me, earns him no small amount of respect.


fleur2

12 comments:

  1. My lovely friend from the Netherlands gave me these books for Christmas last year~ they are just amazing!! :)

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  2. These gnomes look a lot like the Scandinavian elves that are displayed on some of the things my (Finnish) Mom brought with her from Finland. She had a set of decorative plates that each showed a different little, bearded man.

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    1. They do. The artist is from Denmark, which is considered part of Scandinavia, so they're probably related, if not the same. . .

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  3. I love Rien Poortvliet!! And grew up with a couple of his books. I didn't know he had books on gnomes!

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    1. Yes, it's delightful! And one on the Sandman!

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  4. I watched David the Gnome as a kid as well, and discovered that most of the episodes stream for free for Amazon Prime subscribers. My daughter is now a David the Gnome fanatic :) It's such a fantastic series of stories, and I'd love to get my hand on these books on which the series is based!

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    1. You could try Amazon (book section). My library has the big Gnomes book, which is so nice. I'd love to have my son watch some when he grows out of toddlerhood. c;

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  5. Ok, I know this post is over two years old, but I only now discovered your blog and oh my god, you hit me right in the nostalgia with this post. I remember that book! I was so scared of the troll pictures... It alsohad a story in the end where a man dies while writing a book on gnomes, which left my mother quite surprised who did definitely not expect that, when choosing the book as a source for bedtime stories. Neverthe less, I loved the hell out of this book for exactly the reason you mentioned: It doesn't talk down to children. Gotta check if it's still at my parents' house...

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    1. That's great, Julia! Yeah, I think the original author of the book died "under mysterious circumstances" or something like that. ;) And there are some dark-looking characters back in the village watching the travelers with malice. I'm so glad you found me!

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    2. I mean the author of the book of sleep secrets, the book within the book. I also love that sort of thing!

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