Free Exhibitions @ The British Library

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The British Library

On my day off this week I decided I would check out a couple of the free exhibitions at the British Library. I had seen the newest exhibition in The Folio Society Gallery, ‘Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics’, advertised on the British Library website and was eager to see what it was like.

This exhibition explored the illustrations of ten classic children’s books from the 20th century, including Paddington Bear, The Secret Garden, The Hobbit, Ted Hugh’s The Iron Man and Roald Dahl’s brilliant Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. ‘Picture This’ really brought to life the interesting depictions of such familiar classics over time. I found the original illustrations of The Hobbit, drawn by JRR Tolkien himself, particularly interesting having just seen his masterpiece turned into a three-part epic film. They also had illustrations from Alan Lee, whose visual representations of Tolkien’s Middle Earth comes the closest to Tolkien’s vision, and who was employed by Peter Jackson as a concept artist for The Lord of the Rings films and the The Hobbit

I was also able to listen to an interview with Michael Foreman (the illustrator of the second edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, before Quentin Blake’s iconic depictions) discussing his meeting with Roald Dahl over the sketches he had done of Willy Wonka – Dahl was adamant that Willy Wonka should have a tall, slim figure whereas Foreman had drawn him as rather squat, due to the fact that he owned a sweet emporium. From reading Susan Hill’s encounter with Roald Dahl and now listening to Foreman’s experiences I am starting to think that he isn’t the friendly giant (I always imagined him looking like the BFG) I always thought he was. But then he knew how to captivate a child’s imagination and was very particular about his characters. 

Although quite a small exhibition, the fact that it is free and includes some of the original illustrations for these well-known and well-loved classics means it is well worth going. It has definitely inspired me to pick up these books again and see how they compare to my experiences as a child reading them. Though ‘Picture This’ will only be on until the 26th January.

The second exhibition I decided to go to was a permanent one in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery – Treasures of the British Library. It includes sacred texts from all faiths around the world, maps, early printing, historical, scientific and musical works. However, I was mainly interested in the literary treasures that were hidden in this dark, mysterious gallery. After adjusting to the rather loud literature lesson that appeared to be taking place in the gallery I was soon able to settle down and enjoy looking at the original manuscripts of Beowulf and Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (before it was renamed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).

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The British Library

The biggest enjoyment for me however, which I didn’t know about, was the original hand-written draft of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. This book is probably one of my favourite Carter novels that I have read so far – I have read it numerous times and studied it for my dissertation. It was mesmerising to see the creation of it in front of me; to see Angela Carter’s handwriting and her thought processes as she crossed out, added and subtracted words to the text. I wish I could have taken a picture but, unfortunately, that was forbidden!

I couldn’t have left the Treasures of the British Library exhibition without seeing the most famous and the most historical document there – the Magna Carter (Great Charter). The British Library holds only a few of the remaining copies of the Magna Carter. The picture postcard below shows the original text of King John’s Magna Carter from 1215.

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The British Library
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6 Replies to “Free Exhibitions @ The British Library”

  1. The BL is wonderful, isn’t it? I paid my first visit just over a year ago to see the On The Road scroll which was pretty incredible and I’d like to go back. I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Company of Wolves back in the day which was attended by Carter who did a Q&A session which was pretty impressive if I remember correctly. I still have the signed book……

    1. I love the British Library. I have been to a few of their temporary exhibitions over the last year or so. I recently went to the Georgians Revealed exhibition there (which I will blog about by next week hopefully) and that was really interesting. I am so jealous of your story!! You actually met her! What did you think of Company of Wolves? I watched it whilst at university and found it rather strange. I have just ordered the DVD online to re-watch.

      1. It *is* an odd film, and a little icky in places – I remember that she warned us we might not like the wolf transformation scene! She was a very interesting woman and I had a look last night, and still have my signed copy of “The Bloody Chamber” – she simply signed her name, but it’s a lovely memento of the night.

  2. The illustrated children’s books exhibition sounds great. I met Roald Dahl as a child (I lived in Buckinghamshire then) and he was great at talking to us all but I suspect he wasn’t quite as good with adults 😉

    1. That’s amazing! I have read that he was a lot better at talking to children. The only author I ever met as a child was Jacqueline Wilson (I did love her books when I was younger).

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