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GONZO MAGAZINE #269: Jon and Martin Springett talk about Pauline

As many readers of my burblings will know, I spent my formative years in Hong Kong, only leaving a few months before I was twelve. I do not use the term “formative years” lightly, because a large amount of the stuff which has shaped my adult life came from my childhood years in the last jewel of the Imperial crown. I still dream in Cantonese, and remember much of my childhood, which in many ways was weird and wonderful, and in other ways would - these days - be judged as being quite horrific. Other things were pretty normal.

For my sixth birthday, for example, Uncle Mac, who was some office acquaintance of my Dad, a leading light in the local Amateur Dramatics Society, and - I discovered many years later - a notorious homosexual, (a snippet of information which is totally irrelevant to the main thrust of this narrative), gave me a book which would change my life. These days children don’t seem to read at this age; in recent years I have given youngsters of my acquaintance books that I think they would enjoy only to have them (and often their parents) stare at me in horror.

“I blummin’ hate books”, said one ungrateful child, which prompted me to give him a lecture about the importance of literacy, and the historical context of the Nazi book burnings, which I am sure that he ignored.

But in those days (as they are now) books were my favourite things, and so I devoured this one - The Horse and his Boy by C.S.Lewis with great pleasure. It was my first introduction to the magickal land of Narnia; a wonderful place where animals could talk, and there was a barely veiled Leonine Jesus. And from then on, the books were amongst my favourites. And they are still amongst my favourites today.

Unlike so many people that I know, I wasn’t disgusted to find out that the whole series could be interpreted as a Christian allegory. My family were, and are, church people, and - although I have drifted away from the established church in recent decades, having much the same attitude towards mainstream religion that I do to mainstream politics - much of my moral compass was forged in those faraway lands of make believe.

Narnia was also my first introduction to any sort of fantasy, high or otherwise, but over the years, even though I have read many more books in the genre, none of them have ever replaced the seven Chronicles of Narnia in my affections. And over the next year or so I devoured all of them.

Much though I loved the stories, I also loved the illustrations; especially the maps on the endpapers, which were all done by a lady called Pauline Baynes, whom - I later discovered - had also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and other books by J.R.R Tolkein.

And so the next five decades continued. I continued to read the Narnia books, and when the movies came out I thought they were terrible, mainly because they didn’t look like the landscape in my head that had been created and nurtured by five decades of exposure to the line drawings of Pauline Baynes.

And then I met Martin Springett.

Martin Springett was born in Crayford, Kent, England, in 1947. He studied art (that is he learned to play the Guitar) for two semesters at the Brassey School of Art in Hastings, Sussex. He emigrated to the West Coast of Canada in 1965, but returned to the UK in 1973 to pursue music in various bands. He spent time in Germany, and toured through Europe.

While in London Martin started to illustrate and design record covers for Columbia records. Uhis return to Vancouver, Martin carried on with music and illustrated various books and magazines. In 1978 he moved to Toronto, maintaining activity in every area where illustration is required. He released his own album, “The Gardening Club”, in 1983.

In 1984 Martin was commissioned to illustrate the cover of “The Summer Tree” by Guy Gavriel Kay. This and the subsequent volumes of The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy were published around the world along with Martin’s covers.

Martin continued his work in fantasy illustration, illustrating many covers for fantasy novels, including “The Traveller In Black” by John Brunner. In 1990 he illustrated his first children's book, “Mei Ming and the Dragon’s Daughter” written by Lydia Bailey. Martin has just finished illustrating his sixth children's book, called “The Follower” by Richard Thompson. He has been nominated for various awards, including the Govenor Generals Award For Illustration. He has won the Aurora Award For Excellence in Fantasy Art, and two Silver Awrads from the Art Directors Club of Toronto and Best Classical Record Cover of The Year Award (UK).

Martin still pursues the Musical Muse and has several projects on the go.

Martin also knew Pauline Baynes. He writes:

“I first met Pauline Baynes when I was briefly commissioned to illustrate J R R Tolkien’s “Farmer Giles of Ham” about ten years ago. The project fell through, but it opened the door to one of the most unexpected and delightful experiences of my life; meeting and knowing Pauline Baynes. Pauline lived in what I can only describe as a magical cottage, in a serene sylvan setting in the beautiful Surrey countryside, a perfect place to create images for “Narnia” and “Middle Earth”. A bright, literate, lovely spark of a woman, she lived a strongly independent life with her two dogs, Lady and Bertha, and worked until the very last day of her life.

It doesn’t always go smoothly when one meets people whose work you admire, but we hit it off right away. I and my brother in law, David Shelton, the “pilot” on these annual visits, were completely charmed by her and by her fascinating environment as the cottage was filled with folk art and images by some very famous illustrators.

The original meeting with Pauline was a bit comical as I had her phone number but the wrong county code and kept getting a carpet store in Hastings. We were on a road trip and were constantly stopping to use a phone box, and I was getting very frustrated at not getting through. My dream of meeting her was not going to come true. I finally got the right number and we followed her directions; past Bird World, past great thicket, the blasted oak, the tall white tree etc, there was no name for her road if I recall. As soon we saw her cottage we knew we were in Narnia or as close as we would get.

Many people were of course fascinated by her connection with C S Lewis and Tolkien, or Ronald as she called him. It was more than a connection, it was a friendship born of Tolkien’s extremely high regard for her work. She and her husband Fritz often went on holiday with Ronald and Edith, and she admired Tolkien greatly. He wore, she said, “ …his erudition and religion lightly”.

I too was intrigued by this connection but much to Pauline’s delight, my main interest was asking her about her own work and of course comparing notes on an illustrative approach to “Farmer Giles”.

We visited many times after that, and on one occasion after a delicious meal with her at The Bluebell, the local pub, she mentioned that she had just about run out of her favorite illustration board. She had bought a stack of it as she said, “…in the middle ages…” and was faced with working on an inferior surface. Pauline painted in gauche for most of her 60 year career and what looked like firm pen work was in fact worked up with a brush. She habitually worked “size as”, as she felt she had to know what the art would look like when it was reproduced. At any rate, Dave and I volunteered to go to the London Graphics centre and buy a reasonable substitute board for her. I like to think it lasted up until the last brush stroke.

I sent her a silly illustration and a limerick after our first meeting which she really enjoyed, somehow it sums up the laughs and good times we had with our dear friend Pauline.

There was a young lad from Toronto

Who had to see Pauline B pronto !

He teamed with Dave

Who wouldn’t behave,

Those appalling young men from Toronto !”

As a fan of both Martin and Pauline, this gave me an excellent excuse to phone him up for a chat, and You can listen to our conversation here:


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