whew.

I was looking through old files and came across the drawings I did for the jackets of The Chronicles of Narnia. In 2004 I was offered the job of creating new covers for all seven novels. How could I say no to working on one of the canonical stories in children’s literature?

I wrote about the experience for Harper’s website.

A recurring theme in these posts and in my talks is how I explore, through drawing, as many variations of an idea as possible. I like to push an idea so far, because that exploration usually triggers the most interesting solutions. Looking through my Narnia materials I was, with a shock, reminded of just how far we (Editor Toni Markiet, art director Martha Rago, and I) had to go to solve the jacket image of Prince Caspian.

For those who don’t recall the story, here’s a recap.

As tempting as villains always are, we decided to focus the jackets on the heroic elements of the stories – the good guys, as it were. It was a fascinating process dissecting the books for imagery that was powerful on its own, but also fit our thematic overview.

All the sketches and paintings below are 16.5″ h X  12″ w. The sketches are pencil on tracing paper. The paintings are watercolor.

For Prince Caspian, I began by having Caspian rallying the army of trolls and animals that would fight against the White Witch. I was also using, in some of the sketches, Susan’s horn, which was a nice object to focus on:

Caspian BattleField A

Here, the horn is more prominent:

Caspian BattleField B

In other sketches, I was using Caspian’s sword (look up the plot!) as a focal point:

Caspian Heroic A

And here is where we began to deal with the 800-pound Gorilla in the room. About halfway into this project the movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was released. It did very well at the box office. Box office performance was what everyone was waiting for before green lighting the next Narnia movie.

The next movie was set to be Prince Caspian.

The cover I was working on.

We had already begun to hedge things a bit by turning Caspian so that we see him from the back:

Caspian Heroic B

And, in fact, that last drawing is the one that was chosen.

I did the painting:

CaspianJacket Alt

Prince Caspian, the movie, then got the green light and it was decided that Caspian’s face could not be shown. They didn’t want the person on the book cover to physically contradict the actor who would be play Caspian in the movie.

The “they” I refer to was the Harper marketing team and the C.S.Lewis estate – which is essentially Doug Gresham, a stepson of C.S. Lewis. Both parties were very easy to work with. The success of the films, though, led to greater scrutiny of all things Narnia, including the book jackets.

So, literally, back to the drawing board.

Revisiting the battlefield, without a clear view of Caspian:

Caspian BattleField C

I love those badgers. Note the reflection of Caspian in the eyes.

Then the horn:

Caspian Horn A

Caspian Horn B

The chess piece (Really, re-read the book):

Caspian ChessPiece A

I did a rough color sketch to show the red eye.

And then the sword. Here it is being forged:

Caspian Sword A

Now we had something. The hands, the sword, the light slanting across the blade – simple and powerful. The question was, what’s in the background? I used trolls, but what about just the forge:

Caspian Sword B

Everyone liked that last image, with only flames, no forge.

Here’s the painting:

CaspianFinishPainting

And the printed jacket:

CaspianJacket a

In the end, despite the very lengthy journey, this is one of my favorites. A simple strong image always makes a good jacket.

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