Victorian children’s stories were often the stuff of nightmares. As a child I inherited my grandfather’s books and was haunted by an illustration, “Karik And Valya Trapped In The Lair Of The Water-Spider” – which showed two miniaturised Russian children being wrapped in slimy webbing by a gigantic eight-legged multi-eyed horror at the bottom of a pond – from The Extraordinary Adventures of Karik and Valya, by Yan Larri.
This paled to nothing compared with Uncle Two-Heads sinking into the quicksand, an illustration that cursed my nights for years. Since this column began, I tried searching it out, and finally received the edition my family would have inherited in the 1930s, entitled Giant-Land (it cost the exact amount they’re paying me to write this, so we’re even). Created by Richard Quittenton under the pen-name of Roland Quiz, it’s one of four Tim Pippin novels, first published in 1874, that continued to be reprinted until the end of the Second World War, after which they vanished.
Probably with good reason; the horrors of the war are never far from these pages. Swords are constantly brandished and brutal threats are pronounced on every page, as Pippin enters different realms. Often a bystander as a gallery of grotesques duke it out for supremacy of the kingdom, he stands by as Giant Blackbeard attacks a dragon and Redbeard fights King Gobble-All. The stories are clearly spun from old English fairy tales, and at one point a naked and sensual Queen Mab (first mentioned in Romeo and Juliet) poses astride a severed head. But J M Barrie also featured Mab, and it is to Barrie (and Lupino Lane, the vaudevillian who popularised “The Lambeth Walk”) that this book is dedicated.
Quittenton (1833-1914) wrote the Tim Pippin stories for Our Young Folks Weekly Budget, which began publication in 1870 and changed its title to Young Folks. He became the joint editor, writing humorous sketches, rhymes and stories for children, as well as “blood and thunder” adventures for older readers. The unsettling illustrations were by “Puck”, the pseudonym of John Proctor, and helped to raise the paper’s circulation dramatically. Proctor later wrote the “Jack the Valiant” tales for the same paper.
As always in such volumes, the villains are the most colourful and memorable characters, but it’s the Hassidic Giant Greed whose description disturbs most, appearing in drawings which are sinister and clearly anti-Semitic. These once-beloved books are now extremely rare and collectable.