I have written two fan letters, but there is a third I would have liked to have written. Perhaps I discovered Pauline Baynes at an age when I did not know to think of storytellers as real and separate people – or perhaps she was of an age I assumed had long ago become history. I only really realised today that Pauline Baynes was still alive until a few days ago.
Pauline Baynes’ illustrations are my favourite and the most influential. She taught me to see words and pictures and stories (all stories, I think, as well as those I loved because of her) as deep and beautiful things: windows, not mirrors. Those detailed maps and tiny vignettes frustrated me with their promise – the certainty! – of real and green lands just through the page. I could smell the heather and snow of Narnia, feel the hot winds of Calormene, taste the salt of the seas, know the perils of the far islands and the edge and the end of the world.
Her pictures were not inferior to the stories. They were part of them and half the enchantment. When another hand takes over, Narnia is less and different. When the exuberant marginalia are removed, Farmer Giles loses his charm and good humour and becomes a bawdy ogre.
Pauline Baynes taught me what stories and illustration – simple clear inked lines without colour or dazzle – could be. Allan Lee and John Howe may divide the rest of Middle Earth between them and welcome to it. Hobbiton and Bombadil belong to Pauline Baynes. The hills and farms of the little kingdom (before England had one king), when knights tangled themselves in chain mail and dogs spoke (dog) latin and farmers loaded blunderbusses with old nails and went out in search of hapless but well-spoken dragons – they are all Baynes’ as much as Tolkien’s.
The dying Aslan, the brave mice, Aravis seated cross-legged telling her story, the marshwiggle’s long streak of misery, Susan dancing with Tumnus, Lucy (oh, Lucy!) barefoot on the Dawntreader wearing Caspian’s tunic, Jadis magnificent and mad driving a hansome cab through London – those memories are gifts Lewis could only have given me through Pauline Baynes.
Her pictures did not explain or apologise or merely accompany. They were not aids to the words. They spoke and created and illuminated all those small bright kingdoms and I hope I never come to an age when I cannot take out those books and pore over them, and pour those bright worlds like jewels through my fingers.