Title: The Little Fairy Sister
Author: Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbery Outhwaite
Publisher: NLA Publishing First Edition
Published: 1st May 2013
Synopsis: ‘The Little Fairy Sister’ is a real fairy story of Bridget’s adventures among the wee people. She meets the most delightful little creatures: the Dragon-fly, the Kookaburra, the Lizard, the Teddy Bears, the Pelican, as well as the Mannikins, the Merman, and of course the Fairies.
This facsimile of The Little Fairy Sister, popular with children of the 1920s, has been reproduced by the National Library of Australia from an early edition of the book. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s enchanting illustrations will appeal to children as much today as they did yesterday.
Many children in Australia have been, and still are, brought up on a European tradition of fairy tales that have their roots in oral, salon and literary traditions: Oscar Wilde, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault and other French salon writers, including Charlotte Rose de la Force, and Hans Christian Andersen. Stemming from there, collections from Andrew Lang – his rainbow fairy books, and English authors such as John Jacobs would have largely shaped the fairy tale world children come to inhabit. In the early twentieth century in Australia, a young woman named Ida Rentoul turned her hand to creating images of fairies, drawing fairies and whimsical creatures into a uniquely Australian setting, combining them with Australian flora and fauna.
Bridget is an only child who is doted on by nurse and her parents – and when she falls asleep after her father tells her a story of the little sister she was told went to live with the fairies, she falls into a world of magic, of fairies and talking animals, much like Alice did when she tumbled down the rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll’s classic Wonderland. In this new world, Bridget shrinks down to the size of a fairy as she explores the world of talking animals, a fairy queen, wonder, magic and a bushland paradise that is both quintessentially European in the tradition of a fairy land, and yet also, quintessentially Australian as native fauna and flora populate the world Bridget finds herself in. Accompanied by dragonflies, pelicans, a kookaburra and a myriad of other creatures that populate the world of fairy tales, and bridge the gap of the real and fairy tale worlds of Australia and the European tradition – where the familiar tales are transported into an equally familiar landscape for Australian children.
The introduction states that Ida would allow her family – mother, sisters and later, her husband, Grenbery, to put text and stories to her images. The text that accompanies Ida’s images of Bridget and The Little Fairy Sister was written in 1923, by her husband, Grenbery, and has been reproduced in the facsimile edition in this new print. Ida is known as the queen of the fairy book in Australia, and though her work is uniquely Australian, hr work is filled with echoes of Lewis Carroll, Arthur Rackham, Kate Greenaway and Aubrey Beardsley – where European tradition meets Australian wilderness.
It is an enjoyable and easy read, where the combination of European fairy tales and Australian nature, flora and fauna creates a new world, though sadly a little unknown these days, and so this reprint of the original facsimile of the 1920s edition brings it back to life for a new audience, and deserves a place in our literary canon, and the fairy tale canon of literature in Australia and around the world, to show how tradition can marry with a new world that is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time to people.
This book marks of my final book bingo square for the year, a forgotten classic, which will go up in December.