The Emperor and the Nightingale: Meilo So

My second hand bookshop luck is still holding – I found  “The Emperor and the Nightingale” by Meilo So.  She is an illustrator I have not come across before (there is a link to an interview with her at the end of the post). The story is familiar, but Meilo’s wonderful loose style and unexpected colours make it all fresh and lively again.

The story is of an Emperor who has everything he desires –  travellers visit his castle simply in order to marvel at the beautiful architecture, the priceless artworks, the lovely gardens.  I could choose only a few images from the book, as usual:

A detail from the spread above, I love the bold colours and soft shapes:

The Emperor is not satisfied with what he has.  He has heard about a bird that sings more beautifully than any other.  Eventually a kitchen maid reveals the whereabouts of the nightingale:

But the Emperor is disappointed with the nightingale.  While its song is the most lovely thing he ever heard, the bird itself is small and  grey.  Also – it will only sing when it feels like it, and is obviously unhappy in a cage.  So the Emperor’s jewellers make him a better nightingale.  It has only one song, but it is a lot prettier and will sing whenever the emperor demands it:

Just look at how smug he is, lounging with his book and his brand new “nightingale”.

I like the way that the drawing style changes to show how mechanical and contrived the fake nightingale is:

But eventually the fake nightingale wears out and breaks, and the Emperor is told that he can only listen to it on special occasions as the bird wont sing forever. So here we have the fake nightingale being fixed by a monocle wearing scientist:

The Emperor is distraught.  He has come to depend on the lovely song of the nightingale, and the real nightingale flew away long ago.  The fake one can no longer amuse him.

Eventually, the true nightingale returns, and revives the Emperor with his song.  The Emperor has to accept that the bird will come and go as he wishes, and sing when he chooses, but he cherishes his song all the more for that:

Here is a link to an interview with Melo So.

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