Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Rackham, Arthur

(1867-1939) UK illustrator, one of the most famous and influential artists of fantasy material of the early 20th century. He began publishing illustrations in his teens, his first professional work appearing in the magazine Scraps in 1884. His first illustrated book was Thomas Rhodes's To the Other Side (1893), which contains no element of the fantastic; soon, though, he began to specialize in fantasy, illustrating new stories – like S J Adair Fitzgerald's The Zankiwank and the Bletherwitch (1896) – as well as more traditional material like R H Barham's The Ingoldsby Legends (1898; exp 1907). His prime period began with a brilliant and haunting edition of Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle (1905), the first of a long series of versions of classic tales brought out at Christmas (> Christmas Books). Others in the sequence included editions of J M Barrie's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906; excerpts as The Peter Pan Portfolio 1912), Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907), William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1908), Friedrich Fouqué's Undine (1909); Richard Wagner's The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie (1910) and Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods (1911), Aesop's Fables (1912) (> Aesopian Fantasy), Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes (1913), Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1915), The Allies' Fairy Book (1916; vt Fairy Tales from Many Lands 1974), Thomas Malory's The Romance of King Arthur (1917), Charles Perrault's Cinderella (1919) and The Sleeping Beauty (1920), and John Milton's Comus (1921). The sequence continued, but AR's genius was not well suited to the post-WWI world, and with occasional exceptions – like Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1928), Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales (1932) and Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1936) – the great illustrator slid out of the land of dreams.

That these dreams are uneasy may demonstrate AR's sensitivity to his subjects as well as the general disquiet underlying the Edwardian Indian Summer of his prime. Certainly his Goblins, Elves and Fairies have a grotesque, uncannily fluid, menacing air; moreover, his backgrounds seem animate, constantly at the cusp of Metamorphosis. His Landscape is Nordic, lowering, precipitate; the heart of his vision is not the Garden but the Forest. Many artists of the period produced similar unease; but AR's draughtsmanship was superb, his range of techniques wide, and his use of influence – significant predecessors include William Blake, Richard Dadd and Richard Doyle – sagacious and synthesizing. Until WWI put paid to these profitable forebodings, he was supreme; Arthur Rackham's Book of Pictures (graph 1913) is a fine survey. After WWI there seemed, for the likes of AR, nothing left to nullify through the healing anticipations of art: the dreams had come true. [JC]

other works (selective): Editions of Two Old Ladies, Two Foolish Fairies and a Tom Cat, the Surprising Adventures of Tuppy and Tue (1897) by Maggie Browne; Gulliver's Travels (1900; exp 1909) by Jonathan Swift; Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1900) followed by Grimm's Fairy Tales (1909; rev vt in 2 vols as Hansel & Gretel and Other Tales 1920 and Snowdrop and Other Tales 1920) and Little Brother and Little Sister (1917); Puck of Pook's Hill (coll of linked stories 1906 US) by Rudyard Kipling, this being one of the rare times AR illustrated a first edition of importance; Stories of King Arthur (1910) by A L Haydon; English Fairy Tales (1918) by Flora Annie Steele; Snickerty Nick and the Giant (1919 US) by Julia Ellsworth Ford; Irish Fairy Tales (1920) by James Stephens; A Wonder Book (1922) by Nathaniel Hawthorne; Where the Blue Begins (1925) by Christopher Morley; The Road to Fairyland (1926) by Erica Fay; The Tempest (1926) and another edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1939) by William Shakespeare; The Lonesomest Doll (1928) by Abbie Farwell Brown; The Chimes (1931) by Dickens; The Night Before Christmas (1931) by Clement C Moore; The King of the Golden River (1932) by John Ruskin; Goblin Market (1933) by Christina Rossetti; The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book (1933); The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1934) by Robert Browning; Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1935) by Edgar Allan Poe; The Wind in the Willows (1940) by Kenneth Grahame. Arthur Rackham (graph 1974) ed David Larkin is a useful compilation.

further reading: Arthur Rackham: The Wizard at Home (1914) by Eleanor Farjeon; Arthur Rackham: A Biography (1990) by James Hamilton, heavily illustrated.

Arthur Rackham


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.