The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Jiri Trnka's Midsummer Night's Dream

Here's a real unmissable treat! a rare book of work by that Czech magician of puppets and art, Jiri Trnka. He's a bit of a cult animator and artist. Those "in the know" love his work, but it remains hard to find. Hardest of all is the film he created of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Only once was it broadcast - on Channel 4 around 20 years ago with Richard Burton narrating. No DVD has ever been commercially issued.

So here is a dusty old book I cherish for allowing me to relive the memory of his exquisite, and rhapsodically beautiful animated film.

This book retells the story simply, and illustrates it largely with photographic stills, plus original drawings. It was only when I saw the drawings that I recognised Trnka's work as an illustrator: he brought the Grimm bothers and Hans Christian Anderson to delicate, witty and elegant life for me when little, but no doubt being unable to pronounce his name, I'd not registered who the illustrator was until I saw this book, given to me by my good friend, the illustrator Pam Smy.

Trnka, who died in 1969, was Prague based and produced many other magical films, often based on Czech folklore. He was, appropriately awarded the Hans Christian Anderson medal for his services to children's literature just a year before his death.

A Midsummer Night's Dream was probably an exotic subject for a Czech animator, and he gives it a proper Greek (as opposed to the oft-used cod-Elizabethan) setting. The enchantment he creates in the magical forest and the charm of his rather fey but stoll sensual Titania, and his Bacchus-like Oberon, emerging from Nature, is dazzling. And all the workers have true and funny characteristics. Yet all is still elegant and graceful. Even Bottom has an elfin charm in this irresistable film. The stop-motion technique, as usual, has great humanity and depth to it. I have not seen a single modern animated film that can match it.

Happily, a few snippets of this beauitiful film exist on Youtube. So if you love these images as much as I do, click HERE for the real thing. The man was a genius and deserves to be celebrated and loved...


  1. Beautiful and enchanting, James. I had never heard of him!

  2. That's what I love about blogs - all the things you can share! If I can find my old fairy-tale books I'll post some more Trnka sometime...

  3. James. Only just read this particular blog and thought you might be interested in clicking on these links. I'm sure you'll have already found them yourself but if not, enjoy! I think you'll find the second clip (Documentary of Jiri Trnka : PART 1, which leads to many more clips) particularly enjoyable ;-)



  4. Thanks for those links Chas - wonderful stuff. I must post some of his book illustrations. I've got a huge pile of books to put on here... time permitting!