Thursday, January 25, 2007

Little Photograph on the Prairie

Still thinking about book covers...Newsweek currently has an article about a cover makeover for the "Little House on the Prairie" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. After sixty some years of Gareth Williams' artwork, the new editor of the series thinks its time for a change, calling him too "old fashioned". So he's been jettisoned for a more "modern" look.

That is: photographs.

To bolster the argument that kids today (those darn kids!) prefer photographs over drawings, a young lady--age ten--is quoted as saying that drawings look "fake."

Apparently this young lady hasn't yet figured out that fiction itself is "fake". That is why it is fiction.

Another young lady, age 9, says she prefers photographs because she'd rather "read something where I can picture the person."

As someone who works completely with words, no photographs in my work, I find it very discouraging to hear someone, even someone of tender years, say she can't picture the person if there is no picture to picture. What happened to your imagination building on my carefully worded description? Is this not the entire point of reading--the writer feeds you the descriptions and then you create the picture yourself?

(And in this particular case, since there was a real Laura, and we have photos of her as a girl, why not use one of those? I guess the real Laura is probably too old-fashioned to appeal to today's readers.)

As far as fiction/fake goes, The Little House books have always been presented as fictionalized reality; that's part of their appeal, that they supposedly chronicle the real experiences of real people. Happily most of these avid readers (full disclosure: of whom I was one--I adored this books in my salad days) don't find out until they are much older that Ms. Ingalls took many many liberties with her memories, and that, as charming as they may, the books are really as realistic as, say, "The Lion, the Witch in the Wardrobe." In other words, they are fantasies.

But they are charming well-written fantasies, and well worth reading. And perhaps if it takes photographs to draw in new readers, than okay, that's what it takes. But there is something about this tactic that bothers me, and I haven't been able to quite put my finger on what that something is.

Drawings and photographs can be equally as representational, and equally as inaccurate. And, despite our quoter's belief, just as "fake". So does it matter that the cover of the book shows a photograph of a real girl gussied up in super farby outfit rather than a drawing of a real girl gussied up in a super farby outfit?

Probably not.

But it still bugs me.

(Though I have to say in all fairness: at least they got the breed of the dog right.)

(And they left the inside illustrations alone.)

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