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Illustrations in books - aye or nay?

Do you like illustrations in books?

  • They're good/great.

  • They can work, but only if they're very good.

  • I don't care either way.

  • I dislike them.


Results are only viewable after voting.

thaddeus6th

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Occasionally I toy with the idea of adding illustrations to the next Sir Edric book. And that got me thinking: what do people make of illustrations in books?

I think the only one that springs to mind featuring them (fiction, that is) would be the Stormlight Archives. Oh, and some of my long since given away Dr Who books featured them.

Anyway, let me know what you think.
 

Vince W

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I like them when they're good or at least pertinent. I love my illustrated versions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and the illustrations in the Wandering Star/Del Rey Conan books are great. Of course the Sidney Paget illustrations for Sherlock Holmes are essential.

I wouldn't want crudely drawn figures randomly littering the book. That's what margins are for.
 

AlexH

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None of your poll options apply to me as sometimes they don't have to be "very good." Sometimes simple pencil drawings are fun to look at. I don't miss them when they're not there, but I can't say I've been averse to any illustrations I've seen.

If they do occur, it could be jarring if an illustration didn't fit the idea I had of a character or location in my head. So they'd have to be at points in stories before my imagination had made its mind up.

They could be a great added extra as I like seeing interpretations of worlds, even by different illustrators once I'm familiar with something. E.g. the different interpretations of Pratchett's and Tolkien's worlds.
 

Rodders

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Like many here, I have a "special Edition" copy of the Lord of the Rings. Personally, I can take or leave illustrations in a novel and I'm generally not too bothered, but If the book is one that I particularly enjoy, or is of a subject matter that I find especially interesting I might pick it up. I do find maps In books far more interesting, though and will look through them more.
 

Extollager

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Boy, it really depends, doesn't it?

Douglas Anderson's The Annotated Hobbit contains many examples of drawings from non-English editions of Tolkien's book with lousy illustrations; the sort of thing that I could see just poisoning the book for many readers. Fooey!

On the other hand, some of Tolkien's works benefited from illustrations by Pauline Baynes that enhance the imaginative experience. Her work for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, for example, has always meant a lot to me, ever since I first encountered it, I suppose over 50 years ago.

Similarly, I suppose Grahame's Wind in the Willows benefits very much from Ernest Shepherd's pictures, and N. C. Wyeth's paintings for Stevenson's Treasure Island and Kidnapped must have been wonderful for many readers for decades.

I'm glad that, when I was reading W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn earlier this month, those murky photos were included.

I generally don't like it if it seems a book has just been tarted up with illustrations.
 

thaddeus6th

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Ah, sorry, Alex. I did try to cover all options, but obviously missed at least one.
 

OHB

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Unless they're maps or schematics, I find illustrations pretty much useless. If what something looks like is so important, then you have probably already described it in words. My imagination can take it from there.
 

Extollager

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OHB, I see your point, but sometimes our imaginations haven't been very well nourished, or may be stocked with imagery that is inappropriate (e.g. anachronistic) with regard to the text.

Some illustrations, too, are stylized and we recognize them as such, and they can, if they're good, deepen the reader's involvement in the story. I'm thinking of Tolkien's own art for The Hobbit.

1548272478535.png


The above illustration is, for me, a good example. Tolkien's drawing of the Misty Mountains obviously is not aiming for photo-realism; nothing could be easier than to tear it apart for its "errors" of perspective and the preposterous perpendicularity of the mountains if it were. But I think even a child gets it -- doesn't take the drawing "literally." The drawing does add to the charm and fascination of the story, as I and others could attest. Distance, remoteness, allure all come across beautifully.
 

Extollager

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Or take this picture by N. C. Wyeth from Kidnapped -- what a good job it does of suggesting an uninhabited little isle -- a locale unknown to most of us -- off the Scottish mainland. You can just about smell the salt air and hear the seabirds.

1548272815219.png
 

Extollager

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This book from around 1989

1548273003713.png


took an excellent, excellent approach to M. R. James's ghost stories, as I recall -- almost all of the pictures were of old cathedrals, items of antiquarian detail in furnishings, etc. -- a boon for those of us who have grown up in the US, in much of which an "old" building is one from 1880 or so.
 

Extollager

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James MacBryde's picture below of the haunter in James's "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" does a nice job of suggesting the eerie seashore locale and the "groynes" mentioned in the story.

1548273248149.png
 

AlexH

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Ah, sorry, Alex. I did try to cover all options, but obviously missed at least one.
Don't worry. There's always 'one', and it often happens to be me!

OHB, I see your point, but sometimes our imaginations haven't been very well nourished, or may be stocked with imagery that is inappropriate (e.g. anachronistic) with regard to the text.

Some illustrations, too, are stylized and we recognize them as such, and they can, if they're good, deepen the reader's involvement in the story. I'm thinking of Tolkien's own art for The Hobbit.

View attachment 49500

The above illustration is, for me, a good example. Tolkien's drawing of the Misty Mountains obviously is not aiming for photo-realism; nothing could be easier than to tear it apart for its "errors" of perspective and the preposterous perpendicularity of the mountains if it were. But I think even a child gets it -- doesn't take the drawing "literally." The drawing does add to the charm and fascination of the story, as I and others could attest. Distance, remoteness, allure all come across beautifully.
Definitely. This is the sort of thing I was talking about when I said illustrations don't have to be "very good."
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I chose, "They can work, but only if they're very good." But what qualifies as very good is quite subjective, isn't it? I've heard people praise illustrations that I thought were abysmal. Each of the examples you give, Extollager, strike me as very good, even the stylized one by Tolkien, though I often dislike stylized illustrations. (Especially the sketchy modern type, when the setting and story are not modern at all. I feel those detract from a book, though others might feel they enhance it.)

So my answer would really be closer to, "I really like having them there if I really like them" which is probably not a helpful answer.
 

Extollager

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Whenever i return to Spenser's Faerie Queene, I take out a Dover paperback of Walter Crane's designs for it.

I didn't, on the other hand, like the edition of The Hobbit illustrated by Michael Hague. I'll bet some folks disagree. His work seems to me distractingly, blatantly derivative of earlier illustrators, and rather gairshly colored. He seems much more focused on a kind of generic "in the style of (Dulac &c)" to be paying much attention to the quality of Tolkien's imagination. They seem much at odds. If I'd discovered Tolkien's book at age 11 in Hague's edition I might feel differently today....
 

HareBrain

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My response would be, "I like the ones I like". If they go strongly against my own feel of the book, I dislike them, but otherwise they don't have to match my own ideas very well, and then it depends more on their artistic merit (or my assessment of it).

I quite often buy second-hand copies of Folio Society editions, which are beautifully produced and usually have about 5 full colour plates, or in some cases a higher number of B&W pictures. I find the whole quality thing really adds to the enjoyment. But I have rejected some of these books on the basis of their illustrations. For example, with Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence, they got someone to do the pictures for the first one (set in a Cornish fishing village) in something like the style of Cornish naive artist Alfred Wallis. But then they clearly felt they had to continue with the same artist for the others, which had very different settings, and in my opinion it just didn't work.
 

SilentRoamer

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I second @HareBrain the Folio stuff is quite lovely.

I have Dune which I got for Xmas a few years ago, the book is absolutely beautiful.

I like maps and I like pictures in books if done properly. In the vote I selected they have to be very good, that doesn't necessarily mean photo-realism but something that fits with the overall tone and style. The Tolkien example @Extollager uses is a good example - simple but very well done and contextually fitting.
 

Toby Frost

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I don't think Tolkien was a brilliant artist, but I do think his pictures - especially the landscapes - work well in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They have the mysterious quality of early computer game landscapes. This sort of thing used to fascinate me as a child:



Everything Mervyn Peake illustrated looks good, and I wonder if there is something special about authors illustrating their own books. I've always thought that, if ever my publishers did an illustrated version of Space Captain Smith, we'd have page-sized drawings with a line of text underneath, as per Sherlock Holmes.
 
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