Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mermaid and Sea Monster by Giovanni Andrea Maglioli

In the picturebook Fish Is Fish by Leo Lionni a fish and tadpole are childhood friends, but eventually the tadpole becomes a frog and leaves the pond for the surface world. In time the frog returns and tells his old friend about the wonders and strange creatures who live above. In the illustrations (see below), we see that the fish imagines all these creatures as fish-like. The first time I read the book to my kids I thought ,Yes, we do this, and what a playful way to bring it up.

I've been looking at old woodcuts and engravings of chimeras, demons, and map monsters, and they are so much like Lionni's fish in the sense that in describing what is unknown to us, we fill in the gaps with what we do know. When I look at images such as this masterful wood engraving by Giovanni Andrea Maglioli, I cannot help but feel as if the creatures depicted are in two different worlds simutaneously. The aspects of these two beasts that are of land are so utterly terrestrial that I have difficulty even believing that they are under water. The current underneath reads more like long locks of hair. And yet, other aspects float and bulge and curl in a way that seems impossible on land. My mind cannot resolve this discrepancy. I do not believe this fantasy, so matter how detailed and haunting the illustration.

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