Lear's nonsense artfully re-created; The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear. Illustrated by John Vernon Lord. New York: Holiday Press. pp. 234. $8.95.
The task of re-illustrating another illustrator's work is, to say the least, daunting, especially when certain illustrations have become synonymous with the book, poem, or verses. Can you imagine ''Alice in Wonderland'' without Sir John Tenniel's illustrations, ''Wind in the Willows'' without Ernest Shepard's illustrations, or ''The Tale of Peter Rabbit'' illustrated by anyone other than Beatrix Potter?
For many readers, Edward Lear's illustrations of his nonsense verses are as important as the verses. The wit, satire, and incisiveness of his verses are captured perfectly in his accompanying sketches.
In this new edition of Lear's verses, artist John Vernon Lord apologizes for being so bold as to attempt to illustrate Lear's verses. In the introduction, Lord writes: ''Many will feel that (Lear's illustrations) should be left well alone and that there is no point in re-doing what has already been done with inimitable finesse by the author himself. There will be some Lear enthusiasts, accustomed to viewing Lear's own drawings alongside his verse, who may find that my efforts will taint, or even distort, their vision of Lear's creations.''
Lord, however, has caught the satirical wit of Lear's nonsense verses, and, by grouping the verses together by theme, he has played the verses against one another to heighten their satirical nature.
A good example of the differences of the two artists' styles is illustrated by what they do for the verse:
There was a Young Lady whose nose,
Was so long that it reached to her toes;
So she hired an Old Lady, whose conduct was steady,
To carry that wonderful nose.
In Lear's pen and ink illustration, the ''Young Lady'' looks almost as old as the ''Old Lady'' who is carrying ''that wonderful nose.'' The women are dressed similarly. Lear's style captures a sense of forward movement, almost as if it's the ''Old Lady'' who is in command of the situation.
On the other hand, Lord's illustration of this same verse is much more detailed. The ''Young Lady'' is very young; she has on an elegant afternoon dress, her hair is beautifully done, and she is wearing a very decorous hat. The ''Old Lady'' is definitely older, and she is dressed as a maid, not an equal. Also, although the ''Old Lady'' is carrying the nose, she is not leading the younger woman around.
Although Lord's illustrations are more detailed and darker than Lear's, there is a lightness and grace about them that is also captured in Lear's simpler, more stylized illustrations.