Friday, September 12, 2008

The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit; Two Versions

I have recently been re-reading E. Nesbit's marvelous short stories. It's difficult to find these in collections; mostly a few reappear as rather lengthy picturebooks. In pursuit of this goal, I have found these two renditions of The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit. But which one is better?

Michael Hague's rich and fantastical dragon and hippogrif are better than Inga Moore's more subdued and humorous take on these mythical creatures. I think Hague's Lionel, who puts one in mind of a solemnly young Christopher Robin is also better than Inga Moore's more contemporary-looking child. But then there's the (gasp) abridgement. Hague keeps the all-important element which causes the boy-king to finally fight the dragon:
"At last came a day when the Dragon actually walked into the Royal Nursery and carried off the King's own pet Rocking Horse. Then the King cried for six days. On the seventh day he stopped. 'Nurse,' he said, 'wipe my face. I am not going to cry any more. I must try to save my people.'"

In Inga Moore's abridgement, this part is left out, thus when Lionel keeps the Hippogrif, he becomes the "King's Own Hippogrif" instead of the "King's Own Rocking Horse."
However, Inga Moore's abridgement, on the whole, keeps more of the original spirit of E. Nesbit's slyly humorous story, while Hague's falls somewhat flat. Again, although Moore's mythical creatures do not have the fantastic majesty and monstrosity of Hague's, her illustrations in general are more everyday, which complements E. Nesbit's writing style.

Hmm. I still can't decide which I prefer.

Verdict: If you want to add a collection of short stories, I'd go with the more widely known Michael Hague collection. However, if you're a Nesbit fan, just find the original stories - the unabridged versions don't really need the improvement of illustrations, and certainly they don't need abridgement!

Retold and illustrated by Michael Hague
ISBN: 978-0688140069; Published October 2006 by HarperCollins (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Abridged and illustrated by Inga Moore
ISBN: 978-0763615796; Published October 2001 by Candlewick (out of print but available as an ebook); Borrowed from the library

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