As much as I love Quentin Blake, I’m slightly disappointed that his are the only editions of Roald Dahl’s books readily available to buy. I’d love to see his work reimagned by today’s artists. Happily Penguin Classics have begun re-printing some of his books with the original illustrations. In the mean time here is the first in a series looking at these alternative views of the Dahl universe, beginning with Rosemary Fawcett’s work on Dirty Beasts.
It was my 10th birthday when I got my copy of this book. I was already a massive fan and had read all of Dahl’s books, so I eagerly unwrapped his new book of poems. But nothing prepared me for what lay between the covers of Dirty Beasts. It scared me rigid. The poems are brutally comic and perfectly matched by Rosemary Fawcett’s vivid paintings. Her work is the polar opposite of Blake, big on detail and fleshy where his are spiky. Blake’s later rendition caught the humour, Fawcett’s the horror.
The outstanding image that I’ve never quite shaken is from The Scorpion, which begins with a creepy description of the dreaded stingaling: ‘His scaly skin is black as black, with armour plate upon his back, observe his scowling murderous face, his wicked eyes his lack of grace’. It then builds up to the moment when the scorpion crawls undetected into the bed. ‘Oh mummy, catch it quickly! Try! It’s on… it’s on my bottom now! It’s… Ow! Ow-w! Ow-ow! OW-OW!’ Here the young victim lies in her bed, while the malevolent giant scorpion stands victorious on top, a wicked look in its eye. I don’t think I slept for weeks after seeing that.
The Tummy Beast Dahl is full on body horror; the tale of a greedy little boy who is driven to eat vast quantities by a creature living in his stomach and commanding him to eat more and more sweets. There’s a horrible nauseous feeling as the boy is pictured slumped, surrounded by a selection of pulsating jellies and oozing ice creams. It’s almost enough to put a child off dessert (almost).
The Porcupine also features sweets, and is an antidote to the moment of confectionary based salvation in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Instead of finding a lovely golden ticket, this child ends up with a bum full of jumbo porcupine spikes. Fawcett’s illustrations switch to black and white to show the grim moment when the girl finds herself bent over, bare bottom presented to a sadistic dentist who stands poised with a pair of pliers.
I’ve been able to find out very little about Rosemary Fawcett apart from a reference in Jeremy Treglown’s biography: ‘There couldn’t be a bigger contrast than between Quentin Blake’s benignly funny sketches and the giddying, lurid, surrealistic images Rosemary Fawcett produced. Fawcett does more than justice to Dahl’s ferocity, but not to his humour or his underlying traditionalism. Dahl himself hated the drawings.’ He apparently offered to incinerate all unsold Fawcett copies and dance around the bonfire.
Rosemary doesn’t appear to have done any more books after Dirty Beasts. A shame, as she’s a great illustrator. I’d love to see what she’d have made of something like The Witches. If anyone has any more info on Rosemary’s other work, do let me know.