Did you also have books, as a child, that you read over and over again? The images become so familiar that you cannot imagine the story without them. This is, for me, the ultimate edition of The Arabian Nights. The text reworked by Hedwig Smola, translated into Afrikaans by Andre Brink and above all illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.
As a child I loved Grabianski’s vivid colours and strong brushwork – the storytelling in the pictures is just as lively as that in the text. Here you can see the first meeting of Aladdin with the evil magician, pretending to be his long lost uncle. I used to spend hours immitating this style with my own watercolours. Especially the lovely princesses like the princess Boedroelbadoer – whom Aladdin spies on when she goes for a swim:
For some reason I did not like the Sinbad the Sailor stories: things always happened to him by accident and I found it frustrating. But there were so many other more engaging stories, with suitably evocative images. Prince Seyn Alasnam met this strange ferryman on his journey to meet the King of the Spirits:
Apart from the full colour paintings, the book is filled with many sepia sketches:
The Arabian Nights has so many great characters. One of my favorites remain Morgiana, the Ali Baba’s maid servent. She is so clever and unflappable, a nice contrast to her naive and trusting master.
I suppose there is something a little disturbing in how much I enjoyed her exploits. She fools the robbers by having a corpse sown together to disguise the manner of its death, and she cooly murders 39 robbers by pouring boiling oil on them. And – as a small girl, remember – I was simply thrilled by the image of Morgiana charming the robber captain with her dance of veils and daggers, and then “plunging the dagger into his heart” to the horror of her rather dim master Ali Baba. I thought it was a very satisfying end to the story. And I still do.
I was unable to find out anything at all about Janusz Grabianski. I believe he is polish, and I know he illustrated many other books. He is particularly good at animals, as you can see from this page with many images from other books. I leave you with this frontispiece from The Arabian Nights.