Internationally renowned for her two bestselling novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger is also a splendiforous artist with double the graphic titles to her lauded name. Her fourth and latest is “a new fairy tale” with origins that begin with movement: “Awhile ago, Wayne McGregor [resident choreographer of London's Royal Ballet] invited me to collaborate with him to make a new dance. … [H]e would make the dance, I would make the story,” she explains in her ending “Acknowledgements.”
As fairy tales go, Niffenegger weaves shocking originality between the seemingly (deceptively) formulaic opening and closing: “Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven,” the story begins; “Once there was a Raven Prince who fell in love with a Raven Girl. And they lived happily together ever after,” the final lines resound. In between is a human daughter who is birthed from an egg, the Cat who reports strange occurrences to the unbelieving Court of the Ravens, a plastic surgeon who speaks about “chimeras” and builds wings before falling to his own death, the Detective Boy who is carried off and never seen again, and a half Raven/human family that considers movie offers and the circus until a crowned stranger knocks at their door.
Niffenegger’s intricate etchings gorgeously embellish her fantastical tale – the first full illustration as the Postman’s shadow encompasses the young Raven as she looks up in troubled wonder is a haunting, lingering image. The detailed realism of the ravens – every feather, every wrinkle on the talons – sharply contrasts the more suggested, less fleshed out human figures who appear almost unfinished in comparison to their avian counterparts.
Niffenegger’s illustrations question the imagined and the real, flipping our expectations with regularity. “Fairy tales have their own remorseless logic and their own rules,” she writes. Presented on the page in words and art, Raven Girl is “ready to undergo its own transformation into dance.” The curtain rose last week in London … oh, to have had the wings to carry me there …!!
Tidbits: Click here for an interview with Niffenegger about the Raven Girl-Royal Ballet collaboration.
Click here for my interview with Niffenegger for the November 2010 issue of Bookslut.