Thursday, May 28, 2015

"The Blue Jackal" by Marcia Brown

Yesterday I wrote about Marcia Brown, who just passed away this month. The reason the artist was on my mind was because upon returning from vacation Monday, I received The Blue Jackal. It is a picturebook, published in 1977 and illustrated in color woodcuts.

I have been thinking a great deal about the similarities between music and visual imagery. The train of thought was sparked by reading Maurice Sendak's Caldecott and Co.: Notes On Books and Pictures, which opens with a short essay about the music Sendak would hear when he looked at the work of Randolf Caldecott. He also wrote about the influence of music on his own work.

Reading this felt like a deep revelation, as I suddenly realized that when I read certain picture books out loud to my children, I sometimes add my own music out loud, and the music I make up seems intuitively in response to the illustrations. For example, in Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, after the line "Let the wild rumpus start" there are three full-bleed, double-page spreads of Max and the wild things making amok, and I have always instinctively added an energetic jungle beat soundtrack when I turn to those pages.

I now find myself consciously thinking about what music I hear in my head in response to images, and how some images conjure up more distinct sounds than others. I realize that in many of my blog posts responding to single images, I have included descriptions of sounds and onomatopoeia in my reflections.

Marcia Brown's The Blue Jackal conjures up layers of sound and music for me. I cannot look at the cover without hearing the jackal's howl and a fierce wind blowing.

Even the end pages (second image shown here) present such a dynamic and layered composition that I hear the monkeys chatter and scurry across the tree branches to the distant beat of a drum.

When the jackal walks along the road toward the city (third image), there are hints of danger and desperation as the quivering rays of the sun intermingle with the bounce of the intruding clouds and sweeping crash of the landscape. Beyond lies the blue city, so stately that I can almost hear soft-yet-regal trumpets sounding hope.

The page spreads that describe the forest animals encountering the jackal (now dyed indigo,) crowning him their ruler, and driving away the other jackals remind me a great deal of Sendak's "wild rumpus" sequence. The interplay of shapes and colors is like a samba, fast-paced and energetic.

The action and thus the music speeds up as the animals get more frantic in their glorification of their blue jackal king (fourth image.) Then, suddenly, there is a harsh pause when the jackal hears the distant howls of his fellows.

The jackal's anguished muzzle in the foreground bursts into the next page-spread (fifth image,) sounding his own HOWL. The monkey scampers away - trot trot trot -  the turtle yells - yah! - and the rest of the forest animals collapse into each other, their folds, stripes, and spots lending a background chorus of plinks, plonks, and hums to the song.

I can look at this book over and over again, just as I can listen to a favorite piece of music over and over again. And like a beloved song, each time I re-experience it, I am taken aback at how much more electrifying it is than the memory which lives in my mind.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this book, Martha. Enjoyed your post.