A line of classics retold

13th December 2002 at 00:00
THE ANNOTATED CLASSIC FAIRY TALES. Edited with an introduction and notes by Maria Tatar. Norton pound;28

THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO. By Carlo Collodi. Illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev. Simply Read Books pound;16.99

SWAN LAKE. By Pyotr I Tchaikovsky. Retold and illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. Translated by Marianne Martens. Michael Neugebauer Verlag Ragged Bears pound;9.99

FAIRIE-ALITY: the fashion collection. Text by Eugenie Bird. Designed by David Ellwand. Illustrated by David Downton. Walker Books pound;25

THE SPIDER AND THE FLY. Based on the poem by Mary Howitt. Illustrated by Tony Diterlizzi. Simon amp; Schuster pound;9.99

BILBO'S LAST SONG. By J R R Tolkien. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Hutchinson pound;7.99

A sophisticated collection for giftsor end-of-term treats, reviewed by Jane Doonan

These attractive illustrated books would all make special treats for children or adults this Christmas, and they also celebrate collaboration. As Maria Tatar, literary scholar and editor of The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales acknowledges, her book "has drawn upon many different voices". Tatar's introduction traces briefly the history of the fairy tale, and summarises major interpretative approaches.

The main body of the book comprises "classic" versions of 26 familiar tales from Europe with annotations and more than 300 illustrations from 19th and early 20th-century artists. The annotations refer to various interpretations; socio-historical contexts and editorial history; rescriptings and parodic treatments; fairy tale presence in picture books, films and musicals; moral messages and textual variations. Tatar has created an accessible, stimulating guide for any adventurer into this beguiling cultural terrain.

Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio is one of the most handsome books of recent years, with large paintings in gouache, subtle in colour, and drawings that mimic wood engraving. Ghiuselev pictures a wholly convincing world. His puppet is true to Collodi's headstrong creation, a gangly creature who could poke out anyone's eye with his nose. And would.

The Fairy with the Blue Hair is in iconic descent from Madonnas by Piero della Francesca, and adds psychological depth to Ghiuselev's interpretation. The final painting, in which the Blue Fairy gives life to Pinocchio, is surely one of the most original and beautiful transformation scenes in children's illustrated literature.

Lisbeth Zwerger, the Austrian artist and winner of the Hans Christian Andersen medal (for lifetime achievement in children's literature), brings her unique style to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The layout is formal and spacious, with words on the left page of the opening, opposed by a large atmospheric picture.

Eugenie Bird, David Ellwand and David Downton practised collaborative magic for Fairie-ality. The book purports to be a couturier's glossy catalogue and is bewitching proof of what can be done with natural materials. Everything fashionista fairies need for "the season" is assembled from dried flowers, leaves, seeds, shells, and feathers, then photographed and accompanied by sketches and honeyed tongue-in-cheek comments. Imagine birchbark stilettos, pheasant feather bell-bottoms, pansy trousers belted by a lily leaf and zipped by bracken, and a gown of pink dianthus and fuchsia petals. Ravishing.

Tony Diterlizzi was inspired by silent horror movies when he illustrated Mary Howitt's cautionary 1829 poem "The Spider and the Fly". The setting is a haunted dolls' house in a Gothic mansion. Despite the efforts of the ghosts of bugs past to warn off the delicious cloche-hatted fly, and the clues scattered about (for her and the readers to spot), the spats-wearing spider flatters her to death in an entertaining sermon on the perils of vanity.

Admirers of Tolkien will treasure Bilbo's Last Song, which appears in a small, precious book - like a medieval Book of Hours - illuminated in miniatures by Pauline Baynes. Bilbo, in reflective mood, bids farewell to Middle Earth and anticipates his voyage to the Undying Lands. The pictures also have a double time frame. Larger images are based on episodes near the end of The Lord of the Rings; smaller ones show incidents featuring Bilbo from The Hobbit.

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