Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bibliofile: Das Gesicht im Eis

When you think of foreign language editions of John’s work the first thing that doesn’t come to mind is The Face in the Frost. The adventures of Lewis and Johnny (and Anthony, once) are the usual tales translated for overseas readers, not the escapades of Prospero and Roger Bacon, the two main characters in a story that seemed crammed with wizards because they were wizards. This was rectified with the publication of Das Gesicht im Eis in 2009.

Alexander Uhde created a number of images for this edition, including cover art that plays out the title in chilling subtlety, though it’s the charming interior artwork that got our attention. When we think of Prospero wandering about the South Kingdom we think of centuries-old pen-and-ink sketches copied in detail by a monk at Barsetshire Abbey. Uhde instead creates a colorful cartoony world (something sort of a cross between Looney Tunes and Asterix) that does not at first seem all that terrifying. But it is.

A rather long-faced Prospero is, for example, seen wearing a bright, lavender robe of wizardly conviction, complete with planets, stars, quasars – you get the idea – but his eyes are focused on what’s outside his rain-drenched window. A grizzled, grotesque monstrosity lurks in the shadows, its beady eyes in turn watching Prospero.

The ridiculous, doo-dad covered house looks calm and inviting but it’s the din and discord inside that has our protagonists startled. Yes, Prospero and Roger Bacon have come face-to-face with nothing more than a moth. Uhde’s wizards reveal comical expressions, hiding the tepid curiosity or nipping fear of how we recall reading that scene. Just as noticeable are what appears to be root carvings, ghostly green figures wrapped throughout and in the ground below Prospero’s house. Bug-eyed beasts, a snail, and smiling strangers watch the scene unfold...and the moth floating closer....

Then, amidst the blue skies and meandering meadow trail, there’s a strange scarecrow swaying back and forth from a tree. This is no mere rotting piñata – contrary to what the candy cane colored party hat and button-shaped eyes would have you believe – but a powerful charm for those travelers who are a bit too curious. Prospero eyes the brightly hand-scrawled sign and chooses to react only by staying on course. He’s too smart for that sort of thing (or for those amanita mushrooms, either).

Each scene takes place in a rectangular-shaped frame, though one thing that stands out is Uhde’s constant push of action outside these borders: roots spiral downward, branches bend upward, and toy boats sail into scenes. Uhde has also seen fit to enter his own version of Louis XI into the mix (we’ll explain why he’s important later).

Das Gesicht im Eis appears to have been released in a slipcase with cloth binding with 250 copies signed by Uhde.  It's great to see Prospero's world rendered in this style and we're anxious to see more...both of Uhde's work and The Face in the Frost in other languages.

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