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Awesome Illustrated Classics
By Tim Davis, September 2006

We are now in the last several months of 2006, and here I am encouraging you to give your undivided attention to two books written in the 19th century: Jane Eyre and Dracula.

So, you naturally ask me, 'Why should I bother with those old books? After all, I had to read them in English Lit class, and I can't think of a reason that I'd want to read them again.'

Well, I suppose that's fair enough. However, as a university instructor who teaches undergraduate literature courses, I might be tempted to argue that these two novels deserve re-reading at different stages of a person's lifetime; a reader's changing perspectives and contexts, and a reader's accumulated experiences will change (improve?) the reader's relationship with the text. But that is just my professorial stance.

There is actually something singularly commendable about these new editions. And for one reason alone you ought to buy these books, but more about that reason in a moment. First, though, a few words about the stories themselves.

Jane Eyre, a darkly romantic novel written by Charlotte Brontė (the most admired of the Brontė sisters) was published in 1849. The heroine of the title begins as a penniless orphan whose melodramatic progress through life takes her ultimately into marriage with the Byronic hero, Mr. Rochester. The path to marriage (and Jane's path from rags-to-riches), of course, is not an easy one. Jane must first contend with her own plainness and timidity; then, when she meets the man whom she will eventually marry, she must contend with that man's grim personality and edgy volatility; and at every step along the way she must contend with all kinds of other people's problems: consumption, insanity, and blindness, just to mention a few. All-in-all, Jane Eyre is one heck of a good story.

And as for Dracula - written by that pesky Irishman Bram Stoker and published in 1897 - we have a novel in the form of a collection of personal records (from four different people: a solicitor, his fiancée, her friend, and the superintendent of a lunatic asylum) through which we are introduced to one of the most fearsome characters in all of literature: Count Dracula of Transylvania. When people gradually realize that the Count - a vampire - has a rather gruesome and seemingly unquenchable appetite, the ability to turn others into vampires, and an equally alarming ability to change himself into a wolf, several characters move resolutely toward one goal, which will - they hope - save the world (or at least their own little corner of it): neutralize the Count, which can only be done by beheading him, stabbing him through the heart, and watching his seemingly timeless body disintegrate into impotent dust. Well, trust me: The book is much better than any of the movies!

Now we get to the heart of the matter as to why you should buy these new trade paperback editions of these rather old novels. Here is the one-word answer: Illustrations!

The publisher (Viking Studio/Penguin Group) has commissioned the services of two of the most gifted comic artists of our time, and the results are - to borrow a hackneyed word with the hope of giving it new meaning - awesome.

Charlotte Brontė's story comes to life through the sublimely lavish drawings of Dame Darcy whose style is a quirky blend of neo-Victorian, Gothic, Punk, and modern. Darcy is one of this era's most remarkable underground comic book artists. You will fall in love with Darcy's beguiling illustrations.

Stoker's novel is terrifying enough already, but when you throw in Jae Lee's dark and gothic artwork, this horror tale comes alive on the pages. Lee is an extraordinarily well-known, highly-acclaimed comic artist, and he has created forty illustrations for Dracula that are paradoxically dark and brilliant, vicious and delightful.

So, even if you think you know all there is to know about Jane Eyre and Dracula, do yourself a favor and take another look at these two classics. When you see them through the eyes of Dame Darcy and Jae Lee, you will be looking at wonderfully new and vital novels. Don't miss them!
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