This boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia was my Holy Grail for a few years. Released in 1970, it was the first time all the books were offered together in a decorated cardboard slipcase. The original Baynes drawings were used on the inside, but the covers, with their vague art deco leanings and childlike, airbrushed figures, were very much of the 1970s, and still remind me of embroidered denim, platform shoes, and cheap dangle earrings decades later. In high school I finally bought a used set at a yard sale that served me as reference and inspiration when I began writing myself.
The covers of the books all together. Each one is surreal enough to be a Magritte painting. There’s an echo in them of Rousseau as well. The scenes are caught in mid-action, yet the result is flat, frozen. There is no affect, no irony. I wonder if it’s because some editorial decision was made not to depict the stories literally. They are Christian allegories, after all. They are mostly true to the books, except Jadis did not have red hair as depicted on The Magician’s Nephew, and the dragon head bow of the Dawn Treader is greatly oversized.
The same fantastical aesthetics are visible in the interior illustration above, for a cardboard toy, which appeared in Scholastic’s Dynamite magazine. Scholastic put out the Narnia boxed set as well. Dynamite was aimed at junior high kids and also appeared in the1970s.
From whence came the artist’s original inspiration? More than likely Peter Max, who did this notable poster for Earth Day in 1970.
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