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The Lady of Shalott: An Illustrated Children's Book

Poem by Alfred Tennyson with Paintings by Christine Sweeton

Lady of shalott

This painting is a single illustration taken from a larger vision for a fully illustrated children’s book of Alfred Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott. Tennyson’s Arthurian story provides great subjects for bright and interesting illustrations. The poem would not be abridged and the number of lines on each page would vary. The location of the text on the page would vary depending on each scene’s composition. The font, entitled “The Curved Chris,” was specifically created for this project with the intention that each letter would be clear and easy to read, while still being aesthetically pleasing.

The illustrations for this book would be colour spreads (an illustration that spans two pages). The spreads would be painted to illustrate Tennyson’s poem in bright and rich colours to reflect the vibrant nature of the narrative. Each scene would be within a painted frame to represent the mirror in the Lady of Shalott’s tower, an interesting element of the poem. Once the text dictates that “The mirror crack’d from side to side,” the illustrations would begin to show the images reflected through a broken mirror.

This sample spread depicts the second half of the first stanza in Part IV. This section of the poem occurs after the mirror breaks; the painting shows the scene as seen through the broken shards. Each shard shows a subtle refraction and is painted with slightly different colour tones. One of the main features of this illustration is the willow tree, which is detailed in the included text. The other main feature is the Lady of Shalott herself, who is wearing a white dress, as she is later described in the poem as being “robed in snowed white." The scene also foreshadows that she will soon get into the boat and float away.

This illustration depicts one of the most powerful sections in the narrative, and an example beyond the beautiful illustrations of why this poem could become a children’s book, as it explores the importance of identity. The text included with this scene illustrates that when the Lady of Shalott gives the boat her name, making herself more public, “And round about the prow she wrote/ The Lady of Shalott” (125-126). The bow of the boat in the illustration reflects this action. This is a profound moment of declaration and identity, important values to impart to young readers. Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott is an excellent choice for an illustrated children’s book; it encourages confidence, individuality, and assertiveness.