The Illustrated Old Possum by T S Eliot and Nicolas Bentley
|The Illustrated Old Possum by T S Eliot and Nicolas Bentley|
|Category: Children's Rhymes and Verse|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The original collection of poems, with the first colour illustrations they ever received – a classic and their first ever embellishments – in this book to cherish.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 128||Date: November 2014|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
This title is clearly of importance to the house of Faber. To this day their puff mentions it was one of their first childrens' books, after the author sent his publisher's son, his godson, some writings based on jellicle cats and some of their scrapes. It's clearly a book that's important to Andrew Lloyd Webber, too, but we'll gloss speedily over that. It's a book that was important to me as well – I certainly had a copy, a thin, barely illustrated, old-fashioned style paperback of it once I had seen the musical. And with the excellent writing here and the ability of it to delight so many people of so many ages, it has the power to be important to a future generation.
The future generation will perhaps find some multi-syllable words they don't know, and they might question the seeming bias against Chinese Pekes featuring in triplicate as a little bit of unwanted racism, but boy will they be entertained. These poems are, with a couple of exceptions, some of the bounciest, most fluent and fluid verses, and reading them, aloud or otherwise, is only a pleasure. There's the nature of cats conveyed – they like to create messes, sleep a lot, be inappropriate, or just stare into the middle distance thinking about their private and personal name. There're examples of particular cats, such as the one eating his way to rotundity by calling on a host of London clubs. There's even the saga of the loving and loveable rogue getting his comeuppance at the hands of a huge gang on a moonlit barge.
And so the book is quietly re-released for the second time already in this, its 75th year. It's not flagged as such but this jubilee moment should be considered – were it not for the fact it was also probably put out in its 74th year, and probably many of the years since its wartime birth. I know why it's published so often – it's a classic, pure and simple – but I don't know why the publishers are being so circumspect about it. They also seem to be missing the boat (something perhaps Growltiger ought to have done) with the illustrations, for here we have a reprint of the original colour edition of 1940. Yes, even with wartime paper shortages this book was immediately being gifted the honour of colour illustrations. Now I don't like them – they seem weirdly chosen (a man and his goose… OK, but there are cats to convey) – and the book has at times appeared more prettily, but these will be 75 themselves the year after I write this. So while I think they're old-fashioned in their seemingly forward-looking, modernist style, and just a little too weird, they've lasted and they need revisiting.
This book is a perfectly decent way for us to honour that, and a perfectly fine family heirloom in the making. There are many baby Fabers out there who would adore receiving a volume like this, and would be more than happy to engage with the verse numerous times. I myself have done that, and I see nothing wrong in it whatsoever.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
To see it through the eyes of a modern illustrator, and one more concerned with the variety and character of cats, I would probably turn to Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator) instead.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Illustrated Old Possum by T S Eliot and Nicolas Bentley at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Illustrated Old Possum by T S Eliot and Nicolas Bentley at Amazon.com.
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