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Virginia Frances Sterrett – Illustrations for Tanglewood Tales 1921

Virginia Frances Sterrett received her first commission at the age of 19 from the Penn Publishing Company to illustrate Old French Fairy Tales (1920), a collection of works from the 19th-century French author, Comtesse de Ségur (Sophie Fedorovna Rostopchine).

A year after the publication of Old French Fairy Tales, a new title including commissioned works from Sterrett was presented by the Penn Publishing Company—Tanglewood Tales (1921). From 1923, in failing health, Sterrett was able to work on projects for short periods of time only and as a result, she was able to complete just one further commission prior to her death—her own interpretation of Arabian Nights (1928).

Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls (1853) is a book by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, a sequel to A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. It is a re-writing of well-known Greek myths in a volume for children.

Tanglewood Tales contains six famous stories. The first one is Theseus and the Minotaur, in which the Greek hero Theseus slays the terrible monster who lives in a Labyrinth below the palace of King Minos. He is helped by Princess Ariadne, who falls in love with the young stranger who comes to slay the fabled creature and deliver the citizens of the land from the evil beast.

The second story describes one of the incidents from the Odyssey. The Palace of Circe recounts the legend of the loathsome monster, Circe, who turns all people into beasts. How the brave Ulysses saves his men and other unfortunate people whom Circe has enslaved is told in an entertaining and exciting manner.

The legend of Prosperina, her mother Ceres the Earth Goddess and the dark ruler of the Underworld, Vulcan is told in the third story, The Pomegranate Seeds. The story of Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Gaia is retold in The Pygmies. This is a little known story, set in Africa and is based on both Greek and Berber legends.

The Dragon’s Teeth is a delightful retelling of the myth of Europa and her brothers. One of the brothers, Cadmus, who is the only one of the family left behind after Zeus abducts Europa, slays a monstrous dragon who preys upon the surrounding villages. The goddess Athena advises Cadmus to sow the dragon’s teeth in the ground and a race of fine warriors springs up, and thus is built the city of Cadmeia the capital of Thebes.

The last story is one of the most famous in Greek mythology: Jason and The Golden Fleece.

Presenting the illustrations for Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. First edition, published by The Penn Publishing Company, 1921. With ten wonderful color plates done by Virginia Frances Sterrett, her second illustrated book.

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