22 November 2008

Queen Zixi Rides Again

Golden Age Comic Book Stories has a tendency to sway far afield of its nominal topic. (Which reminds me, I might need to update that descriptive line above, mightn't I?) This month, that blog featured many nice scans of the illustrations for L. Frank Baum's Queen Zixi of Ix, drawn by Frederick Richardson in 1905. Click on the pictures there for bigger views.

That site spells Richardson's first name without the final K, and gives his dates as 1855-1934. Most other websites say he lived from 1862 to 1937, and I'm inclined to believe them.

Richardson was commissioned to illustrate Baum's story by St. Nicholas magazine, the most prestigious American periodical for children. The novel was then called The Magic Cloak, and indeed its action revolves around a magic cloak.

But that title didn't sound so much like Baum's most famous fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz. So when the Century company republished the text and illustrations in book form, it chose a title focused on the ruler of a two-letter country. No matter that most of the story takes place in Noland, not Ix, or that Queen Zixi is the story's antagonist for a significant spell.

Queen Zixi is one of Baum's best fairy tales, perhaps because the St. Nicholas editors demanded his best work. Though episodic (it was originally a serial, after all), it's well structured and thematically unified. The young protagonists are a bit bland, but the supporting characters' humor is delightful.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the pointer to that site. Here are some more Richardson illustration links:

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