Friday, October 31, 2014

Beautiful Book #28

The Ship that Sailed to Mars by William Timlin. George Harrap, 1923.

Published in a run of only 2,000 books, 250 of which were made available in North America, William Timlin's The Ship That Sailed to Mars is a rare and strikingly beautiful science-fiction/fantasy classic. Timlin, an artist and architect, began creating the book for his young son in 1921. This was no small feat given that the book comprises 48 colour plates and 48 pages of text handwritten in calligraphy by the author. When George Harrap agreed to publish the manuscript in 1923, he decided to keep Timlin's calligraphy rather than having the book typeset. The result is a book unlike anything I've ever seen: ancient, yet futuristic, fantastical yet grounded in early 20th century artistic traditions. It anticipates so much 20th Century science fiction and fantasy and does so with elegant whimsy; for example, the space ship is not a rocket but rather a sailing ship designed by fairies, and the old man who sails it does so in a vest and waistcoat.

One of my favourite bits of text reads: "On their arrival at Mars, following their flight from the Moon, they found the land fair and free of Man or Fairy, but roaming its woods were harmless but inexpressibly Hideous Things. Many were like unto the evil thoughts of a maniac at moonrise; others were sluggish, amiable beasts, and then there were those Monsters that flew."

When I first heard about this book, I knew I wanted a copy. Thankfully, Calla Editions, an imprint of Dover, created a facsimile of the original in 2011, one that can still be snagged new for a great price via online bookstores. Trust me when I say, you won't regret the 20-some odd dollars you spend on it. And if you are lucky enough to find a copy in your local library, all power to you.

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