Affordable Treasures and Pleasures #2 – ‘In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World’ by Virginia Hamilton and Barry Moser, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1988)

{Ed. Note: This is the second in our Affordable Treasures and Pleasures series, focusing on books that are affordable for just about anyone, by Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl.  For the first installment of the series, Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, see here.}

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness,
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said…..”

Oh, yeah??!! Says who??!!

If you were born and raised in a country or culture in which the Old Testament or the King James Version of the Holy Bible is the anchor and wellspring of religious thought then this account of the origin of the universe and mankind is second nature.  But what if you were born in the Arctic Circle as part of an Eskimo tribe?  Or you are a member of the Kono people of Guinea?  Or the Yoruba people of Nigeria?  The origin of the universe and earth, who we are and where we came from, and the form and substance of the earth are questions that every young child entertains.  Not surprisingly, every culture has its own account of these events but what is surprising is the variety and range of imagination behind these disparate creations myths from far-flung cultures.  What if the universe didn’t begin in darkness and was subsequently illuminated by a benevolent God? What if, in the beginning, there was light, and it never dimmed, and it was everywhere? Or if man was not created by God in his image; rather, what if he burst forth from a pea-pod, as the Eskimos believe?

Virginia Hamilton (author) and Barry Moser (illustrator) have collected twenty-five creation myths, researched extensively by both, from the far-flung reaches of the earth drawing from every continent.  In culling and selecting the stories that appear in this book it is clear that an effort was made to illustrate the remarkable range of these myths — myths which turn our preconceived notions inside out and upside down.  In some tales, malevolent beings play a prominent role.  In others, whimsy and deception are the order of the day.  Each creation myth is accompanied by at least one, often several, stunning watercolor illustrations by Barry Moser.   A summary comment at the end of each story with regard to the cultural origin and context of each myth is provided by Ms. Hamilton.  Although this book is nominally a children’s book it is appropriate for all children between the ages of 8 to 88.  If you have young children or grandchildren these are marvelous stories to present to young imaginations not as yet jaded by worldly concerns.  For young adults, older adults, and anyone with an interest in mythology and folklore these tales are a revelation, a testament to the astonishing imagination of people we normally think of as “primitive”.

Virginia Hamilton (1934 – 2002) was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio among the farmlands of southwestern Ohio.  Her maternal family had resided here since the 1850’s when her grandfather, Levi Perry, arrived in Ohio as an infant via the Underground Railroad.   She studied literature and creative writing at Antioch College and Ohio State University before moving to New York City in 1958.   While supporting herself with a variety of jobs during the day she studied fiction writing at the New School for Social Research, met her future husband and began a family, which put her literary aspirations on hold.  In 1969, she returned to Yellow Springs, Ohio, built her “dream home” on the last remaining lot of the old Hamilton/Perry family farm, and began her career as an author as her children became increasingly self-sufficient.  She was prolific, authoring 41 books which spanned a wide range of genres, but her best work seemed to be in books which revolved around myth, oral tradition, and generational aspirations. Women in general and African American women in particular were featured prominently in her works.  She won numerous awards including the prestigious Newberry Award for children’s literature in 1975.  Sadly, she died of breast cancer in 2002.

Barry Moser is a world renowned wood engraver who has illustrated and/or designed over three hundred titles.  He is also the founder of his own private press (Pennyroyal Press) and is also a painter, printmaker, designer, author, essayist, and teacher.  His work is represented in numerous collections, museums, and libraries in the United States and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The British Museum, the Library of Congress, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Vatican Library, etc.  Among private press book collectors he is best know for his wood engravings in the Arion Press Moby Dick, the University of California Press The Divine Comedy, his own Pennyroyal Press’ Frankenstein, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn, and an extraordinary illustrated bible for which he created 235 wood engravings.  The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible (1999) is, to my knowledge, the only bible in which both the Old Testament and New Testament were illustrated by a single artist.  It was featured in the only one-man exhibit ever mounted at the Library of National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. by a living artist.

My copy of In The Beginning is one of the limited edition of 100 with slipcase, deluxe binding and colophon page signed by Virginia Hamilton and Barry Moser. However, the trade edition is also printed to high standards and the illustrations by Barry Moser are beautifully reproduced.  A quick check of eBay and AbeBooks.com reveals that a first edition of the trade copy in fine condition (both dust cover and book) can easily be obtained for under fifteen dollars ($15).  So…. treat your inner child and purchase a copy of this marvelous work.

About the Edition (the limited edition from which the trade edition is based on)

  • Stories told by Virginia Hamilton (text © 1988 Virginia Hamilton)
  • Illustrations by Barry Moser (illustrations © 1988 Pennyroyal Press, Inc.)
  • Designed by Barry Moser
  • Pictures painted with transparent watercolor on paper handmade for the Royal Watercolor Society in 1982 by J. Barcham Greene
  • Composition by Thompson Type, San Diego, California in Sabon and Weiss Initials No. 3
  • Color separations were made by Heinz Weber, Inc., Los Angeles, California
  • Printed by Holyoke Lithograph, Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Bound by Horowitz/Rae Book Manufacturers, Inc., Fairfield, New Jersey
  • Production supervision by Warren Wallerstein and Ginger Boyer
  • Limited to 100 copies, signed by Moser and Hamilton

Pictures

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

{Ed. Note: These pictures are from the limited edition, not the trade edition which is the edition that falls under the ‘Affordable Treasures and Pleasures‘ banner; however, as DlphcOracl states, the trade edition is a very nice version of this special edition.}

In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Book in Slipcase
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Book and Slipcase
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, End Papers
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Title Page
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Title
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Raven the Creator, opening page
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Death the Creator, opening page
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Sa, from Death the Creator
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Ulgen the Creator, opening page
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Ulgen the Creator commentary
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Divine Woman the Creator, opening page
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Turtle and Earth from Divine Woman the Creator
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, God Ra the Creator, opening page
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Colophon
In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Limitation Page

6 thoughts on “Affordable Treasures and Pleasures #2 – ‘In The Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World’ by Virginia Hamilton and Barry Moser, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1988)

  1. I’m another one who didn’t know that Barry Moser painted. The watercolours in this volume are very accomplished and the text makes for an interesting book.

  2. Prior to purchasing this book I had been unaware that Barry Moser worked in the watercolor medium, albeit rarely. He produced an equally wonderful set of watercolor illustrations for ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ , part of the Books of Wonder series from publisher William Morrow and Company, Inc, New York, published 1989. This is a beautifully crafted trade publication, yet another ‘Affordable Treasure and Pleasure’ well worth seeking out.

  3. I’m not a big fan of Moser, either, but these illustrations are wonderful (and uncharacteristic). Interesting story about Ms. Hamilton. I was at Antioch in the mid-sixties, so just missed the opportunity of seeing her.

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