Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wonderful Wordless Discoveries

In my explorations of used book stores, resale shops, Goodwills and library sales, I seek out--and often find-- rather odd vintage books.  More often than not, these are books that fascinate me and no one else.

But once in a great while I stumble across something truly splendid.

This is one of those great whiles.

"What Whiskers Did". Ruth Carroll. The Macmillan Company. 1937.

I found this book amid the vintage clearance books at Half Price Books.  The bold block letters on the bright orange spine  caught my eye and inspired me to slide it off the shelf.

 I readily recognized Ruth Carroll's name as an illustrator  (usually in collaboration with her husband, author Latrobe Carroll) that steadily created and published children's books from the 1930's until the mid 1970's. (10) What really excited me was that this was an unusually early  wordless children's picture book.  

Wordless picture books for children may seem completely unremarkable now, but once upon a time the books that were published specifically for children always had words to accompany the illustrations.  

There is, of course, a vast swath of human history devoted to using visual images to communicate.  These include everything from cave paintings and hieroglyphics to wall hangings and stained glass windows. (11).

There are but a handful of surviving examples of early wordless books--most from Europe--of these around half were not intended for children. (11).

Which brings us to "What Whiskers Did".   In my used book store bumblings, it seems I had stumbled upon a 1937 copy of the first wordless children's book published in the United States.

"What Whiskers Did" first edition was printed on July 19th, 1932. (12)  It went through a number of reprints until Ruth Carroll updated it and reissued a second edition in 1965. (3, 8)

But before we get into various editions, let's take a peek at the original.

The original edition of "What Whiskers Did" makes sure to point out the absence of words right on the title page--a fairly clear indicator of the unusual nature of such a book at the time.

Whiskers is a bouncy scottie dog enjoying a walk on his leash with his human--a young boy.

Suddenly he spots some tracks...

Snaps his leash...

and takes off only to find himself on the receiving end of the hungry attentions of a wolf.

Whiskers escapes the wolf by ducking into a rabbit's hole, where he joins the resident rabbit family for dinner and games.

Afterwards Whiskers returns to reassure his crying owner that he was not lost--just having a little adventure.

Caryn Schafer points out in her children's book blog "Three Books a Night" the delightful way Ruth Carroll pushes the illustration out of the frame--interrupting the story just as the tracks in the snow interrupted Whisker's walk. (3).   Carroll continues using this style throughout the story, allowing the fluffy rabbit tails, backs of chairs and bouncing baby bunnies escape the stiff lines of the frame.

I was also struck by Carroll's skillful use of white space to bring dramatic focus on the action in the story.  The clear black details surrounded by white makes it easy to focus on the facial expressions of the animals and progress of the action.

I loved everything about this book,  so it was with a little concern that I discovered that Ruth Carroll updated it in the mid 1960's. (3, 6).

While the story seems to remain the same (I have not yet been able to acquire a copy of the updated edition to compare), the illustrations underwent a noticeable change.


Most importantly, Carroll changed the breed of dog from what seemed to be an adult scottie dog to a poodle puppy.   Both dogs are adorable, and beautifully detailed and probably equally believable as bunny defenders.

But I couldn't help but feel a bit let down by the loss of the scottie dog.   The original Whiskers seemed to bristle with personality, his trademark scottie whiskers even lending him a kind of gentlemanly dignity.


Another change that rather alarmed me was the much more realistic look to the chase between the rabbit, wolf (in the new edition depicted as a fox) and Whiskers.

If we compare the updated version and the original,  the updated version is much more frightening,with the sharp teeth and snarling mouth of the fox front and center, and Whiskers seemingly much more frightened and threatened.

It is perhaps my love of original versions and vintage books that biases me against the 1965 update of "What Whiskers Did".  However there is one thing that remains the same.   "What Whiskers Did" stands out as one of the proud forerunners of the multitude of amazing, artistic and powerful wordless books created today, and even better, a story that, in relying on a child's imagination to tell the tale, has stood the test of time quite well indeed.














Saturday, June 11, 2016

Between the United Nations and Conspiracy: Unexpected Discoveries on William G. Carr

One World in the Making by William G. Carr. Ginn and Company. 1946.
In  One World in the Making, author William G. Carr states the purpose for this book in no uncertain terms, right there in the Foreword.

"THIS BOOK HAS BEEN WRITTEN WITH JUST ONE SIMPLE PURPOSE: to make it as easy as possible for anyone, young or old, to understand the United Nations Charter."

And as you can see, William G. Carr added the capitalization himself--today's textual equivalent of screaming.

William G. Carr is listed on the title page as a United Nations consultant and Deputy Secretary-General for the educational and cultural arm of the United Nations Conference

(2) William Guy Carr  R.D. Commander R.C.N
In photos of Mr. Carr, he looks  every bit the part of a United Nations expert.  And so he should.

Born in England and educated in Scotland, Mr. Carr chose the seafaring and military life at the young age of fourteen. (1)  He served as a navigating officer in the British Navy, seeing extensive combat action serving aboard submarines.(2)  During World War II he worked for the Canadian Intelligence Service, afterward retiring from the Navy in 1950. (1)

Amid and between his active service Mr. Carr wrote and published books about his battle experiences, including By Guess and By God  (1930), Hell's Angels of the Deep (1932) and Checkmate in the North  (1944). (1)  

So One World in the Making  would seem to fit in neatly with Mr. Carr's military experience. 

I'll return to the story of William Guy Carr shortly--and believe me there is much more story to tell--but let's turn to One World in the Making  first.

This book starts off well in fulfilling its goals of making the United Nations understandable for anyone.

The front end paper features a bold red and black diagram of the main historic events leading to the formation of the UN.   It's eye-catching, simply labeled and festooned with adorable little icons for each geographic place listed.

 The first 14 pages are equally effective, including illustrations, photographs and explanations written in a conversational style  using easily accessible language.

On the 14th page is a tidy paragraph that neatly lays out who would be eligible to belong to the United Nations.  It is written in almost a storybook style, with repetitive phrases and easy descriptions.

Most unfortunately, this is also where nearly all the clarity of this book ends.

 Starting on page 15 and continuing on for the next 75 pages, Mr. Carr introduces a complex series of charts, analogies and icons that had me flipping back and forth repeatedly as I tried to make sense of them.   After 3 or 4 head-scratching tries I found the logic within the seeming madness, and while it was ultimately rather elegant, it did nothing to fulfill the goals of the book to make the UN accessible to anyone and everyone.

 The last approximately 50 pages consist of seemingly cut-and-pasted mock ups of the actual UN charter, the contents of which are explained and discussed using little pull out boxes, much like side bar editing features in today's word processing programs.

The descriptions themselves are clear, but the design of the pages, coupled with the presence of icons designed to refer back to branches of government, created an overwhelming whole on which I eventually gave up.

At the end, right before a section entitled "Study Helps", are two pages of signatures of the fifty nations that signed the UN Charter in San Francisco on April 25th, 1945.  These two pages of signatures had greater impact on me than the previous seventy five.  As my eyes scanned down the list of countries and signatures, noting countries that were included and those that were not,  I was able to clearly reflect on the history of the time, the complexities of politics and geography and war.   These signatures added a human stamp to a book that, for all it's hopes, made the creation of the United Nations seem dry, distant and impossibly complex. 

And at least one young reader seems to have agreed with me, for on the last end paper was this editorial remark:

But wait!  We must return to William Guy Carr.  After writing this very proper book about the United Nations and subsequently retiring from active military service, Mr. Carr abandoned his writings of war memoirs and delved deeply and permanently into the world of conspiracy theories.

And he didn't just dabble in conspiracy theories.  As quoted on Goodreads and other websites, William Carr was  "the most influential source in creating the American Illuminati demonology", (American folklorist Bill Ellis) (3)

Mr. Carr's books began to take a decidedly different turn.  He churned out multiple books detailing an Illuminati conspiracy: Pawns in the Game (1955),  Red Fog over America (1955),  Satan Prince of this World (1959)  and published posthumously, The Conspiracy to Destroy All Existing Governments and Religions (approx. 1960).  (1).  In addition he published numerous papers and articles, all focusing, laser-like, on a vast conspiracy in which Christianity, the Illuminati, our country's founding fathers, countless nations around the world, money, war and power are all tied up in a vast and terrifying racist/anti-semitic bundle in which Mr. Carr passionately believed until his death in 1959. (1)(4)

To say I was shocked to discover this hidden truth behind the author of my $5 vintage book discovery would be an understatement.  However as I have discovered time and again in my vintage book quests, you really can't judge a book--or an author or an illustrator--by the cover.  Sometimes the most unremarkable book can hold secrets--either divine or diabolical--which we least expect.

Now when I see One World in the Making on my shelf, I won't see a mild-mannered history book, but the conspiratorial madness behind the eyes of an unassuming retired military man for whom the brutal impacts of battle and world politics may have left too deep of a mark.