Monday, 21 May 2018

Discovering Ernest Aris, by Pippa Goodhart


I have just helped my 90 year old mother to pack up what has been the family home for more than half a century so that she could move into the house next to us.  Oh, the amount of STUFF we had to sort!

There were many books to consider, including numerous worthy Sunday School prize books awarded to virtuous grandparents and uncles and aunts.  But then one tatty little book that came to light  -




My mother told me that this little picture book was the one book that my father had kept from his young childhood.  Did he have other books, or was this the one children's book he had from his early years?  I don't know.  He was born, the child of a family most of whom worked in the local woollen mills in Bradford, in 1913.  Here he is with his prized cockerel, I imagine at an age when he had largely grown out of Jack o'the Hedge, but clearly, because it survived with him, still owned it -




So I have now carefully opened Jack o'the Hedge and read it.  It isn't very good at all as a story, at least by modern standards.  Its confusing because there both a Jack and Jackie amongst the many characters.  And there's a male elf called Tink-a-bell.  The story maunders on through a number of chapters, all rather quaint and not getting anywhere very much.  But the pictures of wild animals dressed in clothes, all living in realistic woodland are charming.

I looked up Ernest Aris, having never come across that name before, and it turns out that he was a prolific writer and illustrator of children's books.  He lived from 1882 to 1963, creating up to four hundred books in that time.  He studied art in Bradford.  Did my father's parents or other family come across him in person, I wonder?

Look at his pictures (from other books) -

Image result for ernest aris images



Image result for ernest aris images

Do they remind you anybody?  He was creating books for children at the same time as Beatrix Potter was, and, fascinatingly, came into professional contact with her.

Naughty Ernest Aris had plagiarised Jemima Puddleduck into his own Mrs Beak Duck book.  Apparently Beatrix Potter was rather taken with his artwork for that, and actually commissioned some work from him as a present for a niece, and then suggested to Warne, her publisher, that they get him to illustrate some of her stories since her sight was failing and she was busy.  This is one of Ernest's pictures for a proposed book by Beatrix Potter -


But the relationship turned sour when Aris, who had produced six pictures for Potter, was accused of plagiarism by the famous author's pulbisher, after she decided not to use his work after all

Those elves in their bright red are much more Aris than Potter!

Aris then pushed things too far by publishing a story book of his own about a rabbit called Peter, and Warnes got cross.  Seemingly Beatrix Potter herself was more amused than cross.  Aris apologised to her, and the two went their separate bookish ways with Ernest Aris then producing work under the names of Robin A Hood and Dan Crow.

Like Beatrix Potter, Ernest Aris was all for merchandising his creations.  He produced jigsaws and cigarette cards.  One of his greatest success of all was in creating little figures called coco cubs for an advertising campaign to promote Cadbury's cocoa.  There are many different figures for children to collect, and, there is something quite Beatrix Potterish about them.

Image result for cococubs images

My question is, why has the more prolific and brighter-imaged Ernest Aris work disappeared from our cultural memories whilst Beatrix Potter has proved to have the staying power to be more popular than ever over the same time period?  I think its to do with the quality of the stories.

2 comments:

  1. Jack o the hedge was published in 1919. Ernests' illustrations from 1947 were used to illustrate the Tasseltip books for Ladybird in 1975 so at least his illustrations have stood the test of time.

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  2. You say "Those elves in their bright red are much more Aris than Potter!" but although Potter had originally instructed Aris that the elves clothing was to be "russet brown & blue-grey check" when she later completed the illustrations herself she retained the red clothing.

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