This week, an enchanting new exhibition brings classic storybooks, brimming with centuries-old captivating fairy tales, to life in Leeds. Dragons have descended upon Leeds Central Library, inviting visitors to step into the pages of antique works by renowned storytellers such as The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, as the library delves into the extraordinary realm of fantasy. Additionally, a pair of awe-inspiring mythical dragons, carefully guarding their eggs, grace the library in an installation crafted by fantasy artist Anne Stokes.
Among the meticulously illustrated tomes showcased in “Fantasy: Realms of Imagination” are vintage editions of Grimms Fairy Tales, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all adorned with stunning illustrations by the esteemed Arthur Rackham. Rackham, acclaimed for his striking drawing and watercolour style, honed during his time as a journalistic illustrator, is widely recognised as a leading figure in the golden age of British book illustration from the late 19th to the early 20th century. His imaginative creations were featured in several prestigious exhibitions, including one at the Louvre in Paris.
The exhibition will also present an 1894 edition of “The Story of the Glittering Plain” by the renowned poet, artist, and fantasy writer William Morris. This edition is embellished with black and white woodcut designs by Walter Crane. In addition to delving into the golden age of fairy tales, the exhibition will guide library-goers on a journey through the historic building, with various spaces exploring the origins of fantasy stories in ancient cultures around the world, while also examining the genre’s impact on contemporary pop culture.
On loan from Leeds Museums and Galleries, the exhibition will feature ancient Greek coins dating back over 2,000 years, featuring the monstrous Gorgon and the legendary winged horse Pegasus, both pivotal figures in Greek mythology. Visitors can also expect to find nostalgic memorabilia from beloved fantasy TV shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, starring Lucy Lawless as the titular ancient Greek heroine, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the immensely popular series about a teenage monster hunter.
Rhian Isaac, Leeds Central Library’s special collections librarian, said: “As a genre, fantasy really encapsulates the power which books and stories have to transport us to a completely different world, where we can encounter astonishing creatures, people and places.
“For thousands of years, fantasy has influenced everything from the way ancient cultures made sense of the world around them, to important lessons we have taught young children, right up to today, when knights, wizards, witches and dragons have played central roles in some of the most popular television programmes and films ever made.
“The objects we have on display throughout the library illustrate the many ways fantasy has been an endlessly varied common thread throughout human history, and how it has inspired, thrilled and captured the imaginations of so many generations.”
Fantasy: Realms of Imagination is inspired by a current exhibition also being held at the British Library and will feature a programme of events and activities through the exhibition.
Councillor Mary Harland, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said: “The library is a magical place, where visitors of all ages can explore an endless array of incredible stories.
“This exhibition will really bring those stories to life in the beautiful and historic surroundings of Leeds Central Library and I’m sure it will be a fantastic and inspiring adventure.”
“Fantasy: Realms of Imagination” will be hosted at Leeds Central Library from Friday, November 10, until January 17, 2024.
For further details or to view the full events programme, please visit: Fantasy: Realms of Imagination (leeds.gov.uk)