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  • Writer's pictureKristina Elyse Butke

A Fairy Tale Childhood: Trina Schart Hyman

Trina Schart Hyman at her art desk, self-portrait
Self=portrait by Trina Schart Hyman (from Amazon)

This is a short blog series where I’m going to discuss my first encounters with fairy tales growing up. They’re not going to be reviews, but reminiscences of my earliest experiences with fairy tales and how they shaped me. Please enjoy!

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While most of my experiences with fairy tales had to do with television, I can't leave out the books that shaped me. Well, maybe not so much the books, but rather, the illustrations inside them. Award-winning artist Trina Schart Hyman (1939-2004) illustrated over 150 books, much of them fairy tales, folk tales, and Arthurian stories.

If you recall, my exposure to fairy tales in my childhood thus far includes Faerie Tale Theatre, The Storyteller, and Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. Those shows exposed me to the vast majority of famous fairy tales out there, from the more obscure to the very famous. So, you could say that I encountered many iterations of the same story.

I'd argue by the time I got to the books illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, I'd already encountered much of the stories therein. It was Hyman's artwork that made the books memorable to me.

I can still remember three of them: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake.

I remember Snow White (trans. by Paul Heins) for its illustrations of the Queen, and I admit I wanted to look like Snow White in the book. I was pale with black hair like hers, but she had an innocent, wild quality to her, and I loved how long her hair was and how she was styled. So...I liked Snow White for perhaps not the best of reasons. I thought it was a gorgeous book.

Book cover to Snow White and interior illustration
Snow White, trans. by Paul Heins and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Next up is Sleeping Beauty (by Hyman), and I primarily remember this because Hyman illustrated the thorns around the castle in a disturbing way--animal bones and skeletons and screaming men, oh my! It showed me that Sleeping Beauty can be a scary tale, not just a regular fairy story. Whenever I read the story or heard it, when it got to the part of the thorns in the castle, I always pictured Hyman's haunting artwork.

Book cover to Sleeping Beauty and interior art by Trina Schart Hyman
The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hyman

The last book I remember is Swan Lake (by Margot Fonteyn). As a ballet dancer, I was already familiar with the basic story elements, and even more familiar with Tchaikovsky's music. But Fonteyn (herself a ballerina) and Hyman's retelling filled in a lot of blanks for me when it came to the story. The art is beautiful and at times, kind of dark. The swan maidens always reminded me of ghosts, and Odile and Rothbart both creeped me out. But I remember Odette more than any other character. She seemed more sylph than swan to me. What a gorgeous book!

Book cover to Swan Lake and interior illustration by Trina Schart Hyman
Swan Lake by Margot Fonteyn, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

While I'm positive I read many more of Hyman's books as a child, I shared with you the top three books that I can recall today. The imagery alone was enough to stick with me over the years, and really shaped the tone of the fairy tales, making them haunting for me--something I didn't realize fairy tales could be.

Friends, are you familiar with Trina Schart Hyman's art? Have you ever seen any of her fairy tale illustrations? Are there other artists that speak to you in a similar way? Feel free to comment below!


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