Oh, this week’s Weekly Geeks is the one for me! It’s all about book covers. Now, I just love book covers – I can always be tempted by a pretty cover. Sure, in the final analysis it’s all about what’s actually between the covers, but a pretty package most certainly never hurts.
So what was our mission this week?
Judge a Book By Its Cover!
This week it's all about judging books by their covers! Pick a book--any book, really--and search out multiple book cover images for that book. They could span a decade or two (or more)...Or they could span several countries. Which cover is your favorite? Which one is your least favorite? Which one best 'captures' what the book is about?
I went through quite a few options before I picked my book. My first consideration was Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen, simply because I have a truly horrible cover while there’s a different one that I absolutely love. But when I went out and searched, I found that apart from the two covers in question, there are only about two others and that limited my opportunities for posting. Then, after seeing a couple of posts featuring the covers for Anne of Green Gables, I flirted with the idea of picking The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. Since it was first published in 1925, I figured there would be an interesting progression of styles (I was right, there are). But in the end, I chose Baroness Orczy’s classic, The Scarlet Pimpernel.
For starters, here’s the cover to my copy (or at least, to the best of my ability to recall, it looks like this – it’s actually packed away in a box under the house). It’s a hardcover from somewhere around the fifties or sixties I think. I wouldn’t be surprised if there used to be a dust jacket, but when I picked it up in a second hand bookshop, that was long gone. All the same, for all that it’s very simple, I love the embossed pimpernel on the front, to match the signet ring Percy uses to sign his Scarlet Pimpernel missives.
Like others, I’ve taken advantage of Library Thing’s collection of covers for each book to find some more to share with you (you can see all of LT’s covers for The Scarlet Pimpernel here).
This is one of my favourites. I think the figure mixes a good balance of the foppish persona Sir Percy affects much of the time, especially with the flaring lapels and pink waistcoat. But at the same time, his causal stance has a sense of waiting to it, suggesting that there is a man of action hidden underneath (as indeed there is). It’s easy to figure out that this must be a recent edition as poor Percy has his head cut off, and this is a current trend in book covers. I really like this one and I think it gives a good indication of the time the book is set and the character of the Sir Percy.
Obviously, this one is a much older edition, with the images stamped onto the boards of this hardcover. While it isn’t clear if the man is Percy himself or some other character, I feel this is another cover that gives a good indication of the contents inside. The man’s clothes and hat clearly give the time the story is set, and if we weren’t quite sure, the guillotine in the background through the doorway clinches it for us. I also like the font that has been chosen and the way the red and gold work with the more definite black of the drawing.
Okay, I’ll admit to a certain frivolity with this one. It’s Richard E. Grant from the 1999 A&E TV series based on the books, and I rather like Richard E. Grant. But the cover has a lot going for it all the same. Despite being in colour, it remains very monochromatic, being essentially black and white. Having the white misty background around the figure of Percy, it makes him stand out while still using the starkness of a black cover, and it is a very striking pose. I also like the font and the way a sword with a pimpernel on the hilt (I assume, the picture is a bit small to be sure) is used as the ‘T’ for the ‘The’ in the title.
This is the last favourite cover I’ve picked out. I like the way the man has his hand partially covering his face, indicating Percy’s secret identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel. The richness of the glove, ring and sleeve make for a lush cover with a hint of danger in the man’s eyes.
Here are a few more covers, again pulled from Library Thing, that are more indicative of the “average” covers for The Scarlet Pimpernel that are out there. After that, I’ll treat you to some of the ones that scream “bad” – to me at least.
Okay, here come some bad ones. Personally, I think this ones wins the prize hands down for the worst ever cover for The Scarlet Pimpernel! If I saw that looking at me from a bookshelf, I’d run screaming in the other direction. Okay, I admit that it is taken from the early scene in the book where the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues doomed aristocrats from the guillotine while the old woman knit. But really, that is just horribly, horribly ugly and I would never want it on my bookshelf.
I readily admit that I loved the 1982 TV movie of The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Anthony Andrews (yum) and Jane Seymour. In many ways, I still do. But this is a particularly bad still to use for the book cover. Marguerite looks as if she can’t decide if she’s terminally bored or she’s already had her head cut off, while Percy at his most annoyingly supercilious. I enjoyed this TV version while I struggled to watch the 1999 version, but you’ve got to admit that they did a much better job putting Richard E. Grant on the cover than they did with these two.
Taken on it’s own merits, this is a pretty nice cover and in the tradition of a lot of modern covers that use a piece of classic art (almost always of a woman) on the cover. But what’s with using a woman in this case when the book is about a man? Yes, I acknowledge that Marguerite’s discovery of the truth about her husband is a significant part of the book. But if I say ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, do you think of Marguerite or Percy? For me, it’s Percy every time. And also, what’s with the repeated sleeve and arm at the top right? That just looks plain weird.
Putting this one with my collection of bad covers is, I admit, totally personal. In and of itself, it isn’t necessarily a bad cover – and I’d certainly be happy to listen to Hugh Laurie read The Scarlet Pimpernel (note to self - check library to see if they have it). But the lighting and the pose remind me of Horatio Caine in CSI:Miami and I absolutely cannot stand him (to the point I wish the sniper had killed him in the pilot episode) so that completely ruins the cover for me. Personal prejudice can be a funny thing.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic book that has had it's share of good and bad covers – and a whole lot more that are just mediocre. I hope you enjoyed this sampling.
To close, I’m going to give in to my original urge and show you those two covers for The Snow Queen.
You guessed it – I have the bondage-themed one on the left when I really wish I had the beautiful Michael Whelan art on the right. I do have a lovely, signed print of Whelan’s queen on the wall in my dining room, so I guess that will have to do. I’ve often been tempted to replace my second hand copy with a new one, but when it comes right down to it I can never justify spending the money. After all, it’s the story inside that counts, right?
Who am I kidding? Book covers rock!