Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hog Heaven for a RetroGeek

When you give a talk at the Library of Congress, they don’t pay you with money. They reward you something far more valuable. Your compensation is to have their researchers dig whatever gems you would like to see out of their collection of 134 million items.

Some years ago a Dinotopia fan and Library staffer named Sirikanya Schaeffer invited me there to speak and asked me what I would like to see afterward. I told her I was dying to look at some original Nineteenth century explorer’s journals like those of Arthur Denison. I also asked to study a few of the handwriting primers from the first half of the 19th Century, the kind of thing they would use to teach writing in one-room schoolhouses more than 150 years ago.


The researchers covered two large tables with jaw-dropping specimens, and let us very carefully turn the pages. There were delicate little watercolors of people getting haircuts in China in the 1840s. And there were gorgeous examples of lettering guidebooks showing the standard Copperplate and Roundhand alphabets for the aspiring penman. For a bookworm and retro-maniac like me, this was hog heaven, and it was one of the key inspirations for Journey to Chandara.

Please post a comment: What would YOU choose to see at the Library of Congress?

9 comments:

Mitch said...

The exact same thing, although I'd probably be disappointed. I'd expect a swashbuckling adventurer's journal through the jungles of Brazil or the Sahara Desert, but I don't think most explorers were quite like that.

By the way, I love this blog. I read the Dinotopia books ages ago when I was a kid, suddenly remembered them the other day, ordered the first two off eBay and was very pleased to find that you're writing a third. I was surprised to discover that you're American, though. I always had you figured for English. And I don't mean this as an insult, but you look more English than anyone else I've ever seen.

James Gurney said...

Well, Mitch, I guess you're half right, because we Gurneys are descended from Englishmen. My ancestor, Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, developed several self-propelled steam carriages in Regent's Park around 1830, which were a roaring success until they were attacked by Luddites, who feared they would put the horse out of business.

But old man Goldsworthy got a measure of renown——or infamy——for the family name from his ambulance carriages that brought injured people to hospital. The name "gurney" transferred to the rolling bed. Some people think a "gurney journey" is what happens on your way to surgery.

Cat said...

I'd probably be too overwhelmed to choose. I'd love to see what kind of rare Egyptology books they have, and I love old travel journals, too.

Frank-Joseph said...

I collect and hoard old postcards, and hand written letters. I love personal diaries and memoirs - accounts from people who have long since passed.

I'd also ask to see what JC Leyendecker sketches they may have (does the LOC have that?). I suppose that's something I'd have to dig around at the Society of Illustrator's...

Michael said...

Just curious, but have you found a selection of any explorer journals not linked to the Library of Congress, perhaps something online?

James Gurney said...

Frank Joseph, you might check the Haggin museum in Stockton, California (www.hagginmuseum.org) for Leyendecker studies. I hear they have a nice collection.

As for explorer's journals online, Michael, I don't really know. I just haven't spent any time looking.

David said...

I would ask for old illustrated books of exotic animals, preferably deep-sea creatures. I am planning to cover the walls of my bedroom with blown up scans of sea creatures that might or might not have existed, drawn in the pen/watercolour way they usually seem to be in those books.

Like in the old godzilla movies, a fantastic, frightening or wondrous creature sometimes looks best when drawn slipshodly (new word?), so that you get an extra kick out of the emotion that shows through or the drama you know is missing (like when the eerie kid in a horror movie draws his approximation of the ghost that's taking people out, and draws it like just another smiling person!).

Sometimes, when people attempt a very realistic picture of something that is out of this world, it ends up seeming like less than you hoped. When a mythical creature or thing is represented, the image has to be either so hopeless or unclear that you need to fill in the blanks yourself or so complete and nuanced that it fulfills your overactive imaginations unreasonable expectations.

The reason I'm posting is, of course, that I've always found Dinotopia to be a shining example of the latter! Thanks for the blog!!

Andrew Wales said...

I'd like to see any original comic book art, or old comics they might have.

Anonymous said...

Hi

angels, of course....pre-raphaƩlite angels i'd like to see at the congress library...

thanks

sylvia
http://n.c.p.free.fr