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:
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.