I’ve written before about Raymond Briggs’ extensive work from the 1960s and early 70s, illustrating fairy Tales and nursery rhymes. Over several books and two massive treasuries he laboured for much of the early part of his career creating one of the most complete visual libraries of Mother Goose and Co. by a single artist. It’s easy to see why these often outlandish poems and songs might appeal to someone with Briggs’ distinct view of the world.
‘Nursery rhymes is perhaps not the best title for these verses and songs. There is nothing pretty-pretty pink and blue, babyish about them, They seem to come from the world of peasants, farmers and the labouring poor, They are rough, tough and earthy, sometimes blunt, violent and very matter of fact about the harder things in life. A better title might be Folk poetry.’
Raymond Briggs, introduction to the Mother Goose Treasury
Among the little pigs and big bad wolves are a number of specifically wintery and Christmas themed poems. His second collection, the White Land (1963) comes decorated with a Bruegel-esque snowy landscape, dominated by a big bellied giant, reclining over the streets and houses, cleaning his meat jammed teeth with a useful church steeple.
Briggs followed this up with another short collection, Fee Fi Fo Fum (1964) and a poem entitled To the Snow. There’s a fine absurdity to the juxtaposition of the schoolyard rhyme ‘snow, snow faster, ally-ally blaster’, with the image of an old woman plucking a goose. Briggs’ realisation on the accompanying illustration is brilliant, the mop capped lady turning feathers to snow from on high is both witty and beautiful.
These early books won Briggs a commission in 1966 to illustrate what he describes as ‘the biggest colour-illustrated Mother Goose ever’. With over 800 illustrations it was a monumental task. Among the rhymes is a colour illustrated Twelve Days of Christmas, featuring a Briggs’ staple – a rosy cheeked delivery man bringing a Partridge in a pear tree, roots and all.
In the Fox’s Foray, also from the Mother Goose Treasury, Briggs shows us a set of snowy landscapes that will be familiar to readers of the Snowman and Father Christmas – presumably based on the countryside around his home in east Sussex.
But let’s end with a Mother Goose festive favourite: Jingle Bells, with a sleigh that looks as though it could have come straight out of the 1966 winter olympics, and a horse, which Briggs’ confesses in the monograph Blooming Books, comes straight from the copy book of the great Victor Ambrus. Christmas is a time for sharing after all.
Images are taken from Raymond Briggs’ Mother Goose Treasury , Fee Fi Fo Fum and the White Land, all out of print.