Jonas Lauströer (Illustrator)
Reineke der Fuchs
[Reynard the fox]
There’s nothing quaint about Jonas Lauströer’s illustrations of Renate Raecke’s “Reynard the Fox” fables— nor do his creatures rely on maudlin gestures or facial expressions to gain the reader’s sympathy. Using a variety of mixed techniques on paper, his darkly painted, coated, brushed, speckled, and drawn images create a visceral feeling of being in the real world, while conveying a sense of dynamic motion. His illustrations allow the timeless essence of humanity to get under our skin in ways that sweet, furry animal pictures cannot. On par with the illustrations of Jean de la Fontaine's fables by the great Czech illustrator Adolf Born, these animal caricatures masterfully unmask human foibles and vices—particularly vanity and cowardice.
The collection of fables featuring the sly provocateur Reynard the Fox – who masters all of life’s challenges through cunning, trickery and wit – had been circulating throughout Europe in a variety of versions centuries before Goethe wrote his famous epic poem. More or less about morals, more or less pedagogical. More or less successful as a literary work. Renate Raecke’s skillfully wrought sentences imitate the style of old tales to tell the story of the Pentecostal Assembly of King Nobel the Lion’s subjects: Isegrim the Wolf, his wife Gieremut, Bruin the Bear, Hinze the Cat, Henning the Cock, Pardel the Panther, and Lamp the Hare, all of whom complain about Reynard the Fox. Other creatures also make an appearance, such as Grimbart the Badger, who defends Reynard, despite the other character’s rage, scorn and general disdain. He is the one who finally persuades the fox to face a public trial under the chairmanship of the King (this version is handled more humanely than the tribunal atmosphere of previous renditions). Raecke has changed some of the roles and amplified some voices, but she, too, lets Reynard the Fox off the hook. “He has pulled his head out of the noose for centuries,” the author writes in the afterword, “he should survive in my version too.” Moreover - this is the central theme of these fox fables, which primarily are aimed at somewhat older young readers: “fools and knaves are threatened with extinction – that’s why today we need to be reminded of one of the greatest masters of his craft.”
Tomfoolery and pranks are virtues; indeed they are survival strategies that cannot be underestimated. In a world where reality is rapidly succumbing to illusion, in a world in which nothing is more believable than the unbelievable, brave individuals who go against the grain are what we need most. In another, more recent version of the fable, Grimbart advises his cousin the Fox, “use your wits and your cunning if you want to survive”. Renate Raecke and Jonas Lauströer take this advice in the best sense of the word and illustrate it.
By Siggi Seuß, 22.01.2014
Siggi Seuß, freelance journalist, radio script writer and translator, has been writing reviews of books for children and young people for many years.