Essay Writer


A Collection of Correspondence between Mary Norton, her publisher and other interested parties, relating to the publication of Are All the Giants Dead?

V.p.: N.p., V.d.

A small quantity of typed and holograph correspondence, and associated materials, between and concerning Mary Norton, her publisher, and interested parties, relating to the publication of Are All The Giants Dead?, various sizes and dates, the whole housed in a manila folder. Some papers (mostly outsized) a little edgeworn, but overall a very well preserved collection.

Mary Norton [1903-1922] is best known as the author of The Borrowers series, and the creator of the source material for Disney's 1971 classic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Norton was born in London and travelled widely, but after the dissolution of her first marriage in 1972 she moved to Ireland, with her second husband, the writer Lionel Bonsey. It was here, in Westwood House, Rosscarberry, County Cork, that she wrote Are All the Giants Dead?, published in 1975, a novel about the melancholy that befalls the heroes and heroines of fairy stories when they're living in a retirement home, their days of adventure behind them.

The earliest documents in the file are two ALS from Norton to the Children's Books Editor at Dent, Gwen Marsh. The first, undated, begins: 'Dear Gwen, Although I have a new 'Borrowers' half written, I broke off to write the enclosed ('Are all the Giants Dead?'). It is in one way not quite a children's book but I hope the story line may carry it through to most ages. I am sending it to Mr. Dent who has been so kind to me over guarantees etc.' (Dent had published the first five Borrowers title by this time. It's interesting to note in the light of this letter that the sixth and final Borrowers book, was not published until 1982.) In the second letter, sent from the same Cadogan Place address as the first and dated 21 March 1974, Norton supplies rewrites to the opening chapter of the book, and also writes: 'I so enjoyed my luncheon with you and Mr. Dent. Thank you both so much!'.

The same month, Marsh wrote to Norton's agent offering an advance of £2000 on the book, and outlining proposed royalty arrangements. Tantalisingly, she also writes: 'It is understood that if we were to get involved with Maurice Sendak as an illustrator these royalty rights would be revised. (The book was eventually illustrated by Brian Froud, who was contracted by June 1974.) The Editorial Proposal Form is enthusiastic, and publication is set for 27 June 1975.

In the first of many TLS present in the file, dated 23 November 1974 and written on her Westwood House notepaper, Norton pronounces herself more than happy with Froud's work: 'The drawings are quite wonderful. Brian is a genius! If you could send me his address, I will write to him personally. There is so much to see in them. One is always finding new details. Please thank him.' Discussions between Norton and Marsh continue -- the sourcing of the poem which appears at the front of the book, the choice of author's photograph ('I am sending the photograph back in the forlorn hope you will use it. I am afraid you may have the one with a terrible (false) toothy smile, which I hate!') -- and the dedication is settled: 'It is 'TO OLIVER KNOX, WHOSE FAULT IT WAS.' He encouraged me to write 200 words a day.' (In the end, no author's photograph was used.)

By January 1975 discussions are well advanced with Harcourt, Brace, who went on to publish the US edition of the book, using Froud's illustrations. And some time early in 1975, in a photocopied TLS, Norton writes to object to part of the proposed author's blurb: '...that is the phrase 'in a Queen Anne house, which they have renovated most beautifully.' I know it is not meant to be so, but it sounds so terribly vulgar, in a nouveau riche, Homes-and-Gardens 'ours-is-a-nice-'ouse' sense. I would have liked it to be just 'lives in County Cork, and it was here that ARE ALL THE GIANTS DEAD was written. ... I don't think it is any business of the world in general whether I am living with my second husband or my sixth, nor that one's house is nicely decorated. Some people might think it awful!' (Norton lost the argument: the offending phrase appears in the book's blurb.)

Published in June 1975 in an initial print run of 20,000 copies, the first critical response was not heartening. On 18 July, Gwen Marsh wrote to Norton: 'What a rubbishy review the Sheffield Morning Telegraph has given you! ...if he cannot appreciate your simple, subtle, graceful style he must be blind. ... [T]he whole piece is too stupid. Please, we beg of you, don't be downhearted. Of course, they'll be people who don't take to this story or prefer The Borrowers, chacun à son gout....'. In an ALS reply, Norton writes: ' He is at perfect liberty not to like the book -- but it is not right to attribute imaginary motives etc. to the author. ... Thank you again, dear Gwen, for writing so kindly and so promptly.' Later reviews are more positive, and so is the professional response. Norton writes: 'David Heneker (Irma La Douce, Half A Sixpence, Charlie Girl, etc.) and his wife are coming to stay on Wednesday. He wants us to try to collaborate on a musical of 'Giants'. By the same token, I had a long loving letter from Joshua Logan!'

A handwritten postcard from Elaine Moss to Vanessa Hamilton of Dent, sent in 1976, brings slightly embarrassing news about the book's title: 'The poem by Hilary Pepler which Mary Norton mis-remembered (I'm afraid) ... begins "Are all the dragons dead..."!! The file is silent on Mary Norton's response.

A fine collection of material, never before offered for sale, telling in great detail the publication history of a book from one of the twentieth century's best-loved children's authors.

Keywords: Mary NORTON"


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