Marc Simont (and James Thurber)

In the NYT on the 17th, an obituary “Marc Simont, Classic Children’s Book Illustrator, Dies at 97” by Margalit Fox, beginning:

Marc Simont, an acclaimed illustrator whose work, embodying both airy lightness and crackling energy, graced some of the foremost titles in children’s literature, died on Saturday [July 13th] at his home in Cornwall, Conn.

On his art work:

Mr. Simont (pronounced sih-MONT) received the Caldecott Medal, considered the Pulitzer Prize of children’s book illustration, in 1957 for “A Tree Is Nice,” written by Janice May Udry and published in 1956.

His art for that book, a prose poem about the beauty of trees, is a distillation of his characteristic style: painterly, with rich, jewel-like colors; spare, without a wasted line, yet detailed enough to capture an entire world in microcosm; and imbued with a lacy delicacy that recalls the paintings of Raoul Dufy.

Over more than half a century, Mr. Simont illustrated nearly 100 books, his work paired with texts by some of the world’s best-known writers for young people, including Margaret Wise Brown, Karla Kuskin, Faith McNulty and Charlotte Zolotow.

With Ms. Kuskin, he collaborated on two picture books now considered classics: “The Philharmonic Gets Dressed” (1982), which depicts the minute preconcert preparations of the members of a symphony orchestra, and “The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed” (1986), which does likewise, postgame, for the members of a football team.

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From Wikipedia:

Marc Simont (November 23, 1915 – July 13, 2013) was a Paris-born American artist, political cartoonist, and illustrator of more than a hundred children’s books. Inspired by his father, Spanish painter Joseph Simont, he began drawing at an early age. Simont settled in New York City in 1935 after encouragement from his father, attended the New York National School of Design, and served three years in the military.

Simont’s first illustrated children’s book was published in 1939.

Along the way he illustrated several books by his friend James Thurber, notably Thurber’s The 13 Clocks:

The 13 Clocks is a fantasy tale written by James Thurber in 1950, while he was completing one of his other novels. It is written in a unique cadenced style, in which a mysterious prince must complete a seemingly impossible task to free a maiden from the clutches of an evil duke. It invokes many fairy tale motifs.

The story is noted for Thurber’s constant, complex wordplay, and his use of an almost continuous internal meter, with occasional hidden rhymes — akin to blank verse, but with no line breaks to advertise the structure.

… By the time he wrote this book, Thurber was blind, so he could not draw cartoons for the book, as he had done with The White Deer five years earlier. He enlisted his friend Marc Simont to illustrate the original edition. (Wikipedia link)

The cover of the original edition:

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This is one of my favorite books of all time. The beginning of the story:

The evil Duke of Coffin Castle lives with his good and beautiful niece, the princess Saralinda. A few days before Saralinda’s twenty-first birthday, Prince Zorn of Zorna arrives in the town disguised as a minstrel named Xingu. After meeting an enigmatic character known as the Golux, who declares his intention to help Zorn rescue the Princess, Zorn gets himself arrested and imprisoned.

The Duke gives suitors for Saralinda impossible tasks to perform, and when they fail, kills them and feeds them to a disgusting creature called the Todal (which looks like a blob of glup, makes a sound of rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms — and gleeps while devouring a victim). Quotations from the Duke:

We all have flaws, and mine is being wicked.
I’ll slit him from his guggle to his zatch.

And from the Golux:

I make things up, you know.
I make mistakes, but I am on the side of Good.
Never trust a spy you cannot see.

Zorn confronting the Duke:

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After The 13 Clocks came The Wonderful O, also illustrated by Simont:

The Wonderful O is the last of James Thurber’s five short-book fairy tales for children. Published in 1957 by Hamish Hamilton / Simon Schuster, it followed Many Moons (1943), The Great Quillow (1944), The White Deer (1945) and The 13 Clocks (1950).

As well as constant, complex wordplay, Thurber uses other literary devices such as frequent internal meter or rhythmic prose, near-poetry, puns, literary allusions (e.g to wandering minstrels) and thus creates a humorous satire involving loss, love and freedom. The Wonderful O uses a form of constrained writing or lipogram where the letter O is omitted at the demands of the villains.

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