October 27, 2015

Ford's Dragons

        Henry Justice Ford (England, 1860-1941) is probably most famous for his illustrations of Andrew Lang’s “Coloured” Fairy Books, in which his pre-Raphaelite sensibilities are a wonderful match for the traditional tales of romance, adventure, magic, and mayhem.  He illustrated in the era when reproduction was done by carving wood blocks, but as you look at these pieces you can see that they look like drawings - in other words, although they may have been wood block prints, they reflect the skill of the carvers in reproducing complicated drawings, but they don’t represent the use of the wood block as an art form in its own right.
        Anyway, I’ve chosen today four of Ford’s illustrations of dragons, because you can see he has a marvelous way with them.  Each one is different.  Some are seriously scary, others are delightfully whimsical.  Some have more snake-like heads, others beakier faces.  Some are scalier, others more leathery.  They have a variety of horns, ears, beards, and other accoutrements.  I think these are all different species, which makes sense as they appear in different stories from different parts of the world.

        I also like the variety of expressions Ford’s dragons display.  They all seem to have a bit of personality.  You can believe that these dragons are sentient beings, rather than mere brute monsters.  They’re always interacting with other characters, their eyes watching the people around them, their expressions ranging from malevolence, to concern, to amusement.  It isn’t easy to give a dragon an expression of character without making it cartoony (I know because I’ve tried!) and Ford does exceptionally well.  Perhaps he met a few dragons in his day, to sketch from life or to gain a particular affinity for the beasts!

[Pictures: The Dragon Carries off the Three Soldiers, illustration by H.J. Ford from “The Dragon and His Grandmother”;
The Youth Secures the Dragon, illustration by H.J. Ford from “The Dragon of the North”;
The Seven-Headed Serpent, illustration by H.J. Ford from “The Seven-Headed Serpent”;
The Dragons Dancing, illustration by H.J. Ford from “The Flower Queen’s Daughter,” all from The Yellow Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang, 1894 (All images scanned by George P. Landow at The Victorian Web.)]

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