The Original Book Covers

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The Original Book Covers

Postby Col Klink » Oct 16, 2019 10:22 am

I think it's interesting to look at the covers for the first copies of the books. These are the images which were the introductions to the stories for all the very first readers of them.
https://www.eq5.net/lewis/bkcovers.html

The cover for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe shows Susan and Lucy's ride on Aslan's back. I feel like it's a bad idea to show the climax of a book as the introduction to it. (Especially since it arguably reveals that Aslan's death isn't permanent.) But it's definitely a cool image and I can see why they'd put it on the cover.

The cover for Prince Caspian shows Lucy dancing with Bacchus, the maenads and a dryad. Again with giving away the climax of the book! But this is probably the most magical scene in the story so I can understand what they why they chose it.

The cover for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader shows the Dawn Treader. Not the most imaginative choice but it makes sense. Nothing wrong with it.

The cover for the Silver Chair shows the silver chair surrounded by gnomes. Again pretty obvious but it works.

The cover for The Horse and his Boy shows the horse but not the boy. This is the most generic of the covers. I feel like they could have found something more interesting if they'd tried.

The cover for The Magician's Nephew shows Digory and Polly peeking into the study. This one is definitely my favorite. It's really intriguing and mysterious but because it comes from the beginning of the story, it doesn't give anything away.

The cover for The Last Battle shows Lucy and Tumnus looking out over the Real Narnia. It's a very nice image but I'm really not sure it was the best choice for the cover. The scene it depicts is not just from the climax but the very end! To be fair, it's hard to pick a good representative image for The Last Battle since the first two thirds and the last third are so different.

It's interesting that these covers describe the books specifically as a story for children. I guess since C. S. Lewis' main claim to fame when the Narnia books were published was being an author for adults, they felt like the had to put that on the covers so people wouldn't be confused.
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby Courtenay » Oct 16, 2019 12:25 pm

That is really interesting, Col Klink, thanks for sharing! :) I was vaguely aware of what some of the original covers looked like, but I don't think I'd ever seen all of them, certainly not all together like this.

Col Klink wrote:The cover for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe shows Susan and Lucy's ride on Aslan's back. I feel like it's a bad idea to show the climax of a book as the introduction to it. (Especially since it arguably reveals that Aslan's death isn't permanent.) But it's definitely a cool image and I can see why they'd put it on the cover.


Good point, although one could also argue that a first-time reader who knows nothing of the plot doesn't yet know that Aslan dies at all, let alone that he comes back, so having a lion on the cover of a book with "The Lion" in its title isn't giving anything away just yet! ;)

Col Klink wrote:The cover for The Horse and his Boy shows the horse but not the boy. This is the most generic of the covers. I feel like they could have found something more interesting if they'd tried.


It does show Shasta, if you look carefully — he's lying asleep under the tree at the left! ;) That's his foot sticking out into the middle of the picture.

I agree, The Magician's Nephew is the most exciting and intriguing of the original covers — and I also think the one for The Last Battle doesn't do the story justice at all. Maybe they didn't want to put anything too scary on the cover of a children's story back in 1956, but if I picked up a book called The Last Battle, I would expect to have something at least reasonably battle-ish-looking on the cover!! :-o

I'd love to do a comparison of these with the second-ever set of book covers, from the first paperback editions, which are quite different — hope you won't mind. I'll start that in a separate post.
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby Col Klink » Oct 16, 2019 12:35 pm

It does show Shasta, if you look carefully — he's lying asleep under the tree at the left! That's his foot sticking out into the middle of the picture.

Thank you for pointing that out. It's interesting how some of the covers try to just illustrate the title and others seem like they're trying to convey the spirit of the book. Both approaches have their merits. I'd rather own a book with a "moody" cover but literal covers are arguably less confusing for people new to the stories.

I'd love to do a comparison of these with the second-ever set of book covers, from the first paperback editions, which are quite different — hope you won't mind. I'll start that in a separate post.


Go for it!
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby Courtenay » Oct 16, 2019 12:47 pm

As I was saying, I find it really interesting to compare the original hardcover illustrations to those from the first paperback editions of the Chronicles, published by Puffin Books (children's division of Penguin Books) in the early 1960s — I think they started coming out not long after Lewis's death in 1963. These are also by Pauline Baynes, but in full colour and quite different from her illustrations for the original 1950s hardcovers. They are still in print to this day and they're the Narnia cover illustrations I'm most familiar with, as they were used for the fairly recent reprints of the books with the internal illustrations in colour, which I have here at home. I can't find a webpage that shows all seven of them together, so I'm linking to the individual cover images from HarperCollins' website.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — this one is closest to my heart, as it was the cover illustration for the copy my mum read to me at my grandmother's house when I was 5 years old, which was my first introduction to Narnia. It also shows Aslan resurrected, but I can attest that doesn't give anything away if you don't already know the story. I still remember being curled up in bed next to Mum as we read "The Triumph of the Witch" and thinking incredulously, no, this couldn't be happening — the Witch wasn't really going to kill Aslan, was she...?? Thank goodness we went on immediately to "Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time" and I found out what happened next, or I don't know if I would have been able to sleep that night!!

Prince Caspian — this I think is a more appropriate design than the original one with Lucy and the Maenads. It shows Prince Caspian himself, the title character, logically enough, and as it's from fairly early in the book and shows him fleeing Miraz's castle on Destrier, it doesn't give away anything vital in the plot. It's also a quite dramatic picture, with the darkness all around and the galloping horse.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — also logically showing the Dawn Treader, but at anchor while the main characters go ashore. Quite intriguing and the only plot points it gives away are that there's a very large bipedal mouse among the company (not too surprising if you've already read any other Narnia books, particularly the previous one where Reepicheep is introduced!) and that one of the boys is hanging back with a sullen expression on his face — that's Eustace, of course.

The Silver Chair — showing the gnomes underground and someone (presumably Eustace) trying to get away from them. It's a good illustration artistically, but it doesn't give you any clue as to what or where the silver chair of the title is! (Actually, I've always thought The Silver Chair is the least satisfactory of the titles in the series, as the chair itself only comes into a couple of chapters and plays a pretty minor role in the story itself, but that's beside the point.)

The Horse and His Boy — this one actually shows TWO horses (though Bree is in front) with a boy and a girl, which to me gives a bit too much away. We had a different edition when I first read this one (late 1980s Fontana Lions, if I remember rightly) and neither the cover nor the blurb let on that the titular horse and boy are joined by another horse and a girl, so the appearance of Aravis and Hwin was a genuine surprise for me on that first read.

The Magician's Nephew — this is an absolutely beautiful cover artistically, but I would say it definitely gives too much away, as it shows the two children on Fledge the flying horse, which happens more than halfway through the story! The glimpse into Uncle Andrew's study from the original hardcover is a lot more mysterious and in keeping with the title itself, I'd say, as it's the nephew peeping into the lair of his uncle the magician.

The Last Battle — this one I don't find very appealing artistically, as it looks rather stylised and awkward and drab, but hey, at least it IS definitely a battle, in keeping with what the title says!!

Thanks again for posting the original hardcovers, Col Klink — as I said, there were some I hadn't seen before and it's very interesting to see what the first-ever readers of the books would first have discovered about them.
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby coracle » Oct 16, 2019 11:58 pm

I have copies of the facsimile reprints of three of the books. I would like to get the other four, so I will then have a full set of hardbacks. They are lovely!
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby LadyBessofWistry » Nov 11, 2019 4:42 pm

Thank you all for such an interesting discussion...the original covers is something I've been thinking about for a couple years but have yet to do some real detective research on. The particular area I'm interested in is the spinal illustrations. I'll try to upload a picture in a moment.

These images are all completely new, as in not a copy of an illustration within the text, though they are each reminiscent of a similar one and easy to spot what scene they may be depicting. However, their slight differences make it clear that they were drawn specifically for the spines and cover art.

What struck me was that in almost all of these pictures, we are presented mainly with the back of the character...almost a visual way of inviting the reader "further in." However, notice that two do not...and if that angle was deliberate, why might the frontal view be chosen for those two particular books (Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle).

I have my own thoughts, but would love to hear other ideas before I influence anyone. Also, if anyone knows anything about the process of these book covers being created, please please please share so I have a more concrete place to begin my research.

I'll try to upload a picture in a moment.



Well, I can't figure out how to post a picture, particularly one I don't have a link for but only have in my own files.

Here's a list of the images in original book order:
The back of Mr. Tumnus carrying his packages and umbrella
The back of Reepicheep holding a rapier aloft and with grapes around his hands
Reepicheep in his coracle in the lily filled water waving goodbye, facing the reader
The back of Puddleglum carrying a fishing pole and bait basket
The back of Shasta riding Bree
Fledge flying through the clouds, facing the back left corner of the frame, so not totally from the back, but you see the back of his head
Jewel facing the reader with a flower Garland around his neck, possibly standing in the new Narnia

Also, if someone can tell me how to post an image and link to it, I will share the jpeg I have.

Also, a friend just pointed out to me that in all the images other than Dawn Treader and Last Battle, the characters are lifting a leg or wing to move away from the reader, but Reepicheep in his coracle and Jewel both have all feet firmly planted as they look at the reader.

A computer makes this posting and editing thing so much easier! Here's a link to a pic.

https://www.biblio.com/book/chronicles-narnia-set-lion-witch-wardrobe/d/721409318
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby coracle » Nov 11, 2019 8:00 pm

That's amazing, Lady Bess! I never noticed that in the three I have. Perhaps because they have just sat on my shelf, staying pristine!
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby Courtenay » Nov 12, 2019 4:20 am

That's fascinating, Lady Bess! They really do seem to lead you "into" the books when you look at them like that. Thanks for sharing those!

(Meanwhile, that complete set of all the books in the original hardcovers with dust jackets (one of them signed by the author!!!) would be absolutely beautiful to own, but I'm afraid I'm not quite up to forking out US $48,500 + $55.00 shipping to the UK just at this moment... :-o )
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby aileth » Nov 12, 2019 9:39 am

Oh, you never know--they might waive the shipping fee if you bought the whole set :p
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Re: The Original Book Covers

Postby Courtenay » Nov 12, 2019 10:39 am

Er, yeah, right — somehow, though, I don't quite dare to try... ;)

Seriously, I get the impression the original hardcovers are really quite hard to find now — at least, after a look through 18 pages of eBay search results, I haven't seen a single one of them (only a few modern facsimiles). I haven't often seen them in second hand bookshops, either. Much easier to find recent editions. I was wondering if it would be possible for me one day to collect the original hardcovers (with dust jackets) in reasonable condition, one by one, but I'd probably better be content with my modern paperback reprints for now. But you never know... :)

(Incidentally, if anyone here likes '70s-style artwork, I came across these — boy, those covers look like the ones they used to do for the Doctor Who spin-off novels in that era. Now I'm having visions of The Lion, the Witch and the Tardis... hmmm, maybe better not go there. :-o )
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