Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Asking You | Illustrations in Fantasy

Until recently, illustrations were a thing of the past - and for children. 'We don't need pictures in fantasy! We have imaginations!' - but then I read The Way of Kings, as well as Susanna Clarke's fantastic historical fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (which you can actually find all the way back on my Essential Fantasy List - which, in case you didn't know, quite a way back). The Way of Kings features 25 fantastic illustrations, not for scenes, but for notebook pages, maps, and just general exploration of Roshar's alien ecology, environment, and technology.

And unsurprisingly, they made a fantastic addition - when the world is not a generic fantasyland, but something utterly different, Isaac Stewart's (did I mention he's fantastic?) illustrations really do convey the nature of this new, storm-wracked world. So I got to thinking: could other fantasies also benefit from similar illustrations?

And immediately - though maybe not that immediately! - I came up with another example: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If you don't know it, it's a historical fantasy about the return of English magic though the occasionally-blundering figures of Jonathan Strange and - you guessed it - Mr Norrell. In this case, the illustrations aren't for worldbuilding purposes, but instead portray a few moments in true period feel - and it works.

But illustrations do increase expense, and they're difficult for publishers. In a lot of cases, they probably wouldn't add much. However, if Erikson's books came with a few Deck of Dragons illustrations (...private squee)...

So I'm asking you. What do you think of illustrations in modern fantasy? And which books, if you like the idea, would you love to see images for?


  1. Terry Pratchett's The Last Hero is a wonderful example of an illustrated novel. Also the companion book, The Art of the Discworld, has FANTASTIC illustrations by Paul Kidby, who really captures the characters' personalities. (You can tell I'm a Pratchett fan, huh?)

    Another great one: The Orphan's Tales by Catherynne M. Valente. Beautiful illustrations to accompany beautiful writing.

    But I can't imagine, for example, illustrations in China Mieville's books... Or maybe I can... Of course it entirely depends on the artist and style etc!

  2. Haha, I can - but then, I could count myself in that category too! Loved The Last Hero (though in large part just for Cohen and the Silver Horde, who inevitably and aggressively signal humour :P ).

    I haven't read The Orphan's Tales, but they look fantastic - I'll definitely be looking out for them next time I head to a bookshop.

    That's true... But then again, as you say, it depends on type! I can easily imagine a scrawled-on map of the city, or a sketch of a slakemoth... :P Though maybe that's just me. I don't think illustration is for everything, though I do like the little touches, like the chapter symbols in WoT or the Herald's faces at the start of each chapter in WoK.

  3. ohhhh i love this question!!! I haven't read The Way of Kings, but I did flip through it at a store, and absolutley loved the illustrations. I think it's a cool idea, but I think the illustrations would have to fit the theme of the book. If the sketches were too cartooney for a "darker" themed novel, then that would be a turn off for me...
    If I could see a book illustrated it would by far be the "Prince of Nothing" series by R. Scott Bakker... And Justin Sweet would illustrate it...

  4. I completely agree - and it's also a matter of taste! one person's 'too cartoony; might be another's 'pretty realistic', so it's more difficult than it seems, I guess. Still, I think it's a very good idea for certain novels - I'm not a big fan of scene illustrations ( I prefer to imagine them in most cases), but worldbuilding, sketches, characters... All good with me. I haven't actually read the Prince of Nothing series, and I really, really need to. (Before I am horribly eviscerated for saying I haven't!)

  5. You must read R. Scott Bakker... *eviscerating you*

  6. *is eviscerated* And I will! Straight after I've patched up my stomach. :P

  7. Even on a Kindle, these illustrations look great. I just finished it myself.

  8. I'm glad to hear it - I haven't got a Kindle myself, but it's good to know Amazon's keeping such great additions to the novel. Do you also get the Herald chapter headings on Kindle?