Nick Bantock,
Kubla Khan
(Viking, 1994)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the subject of a pop-up book? It's not an idea which would strike many as obvious, that's for sure. Thankfully, we have Nick Bantock around to think of these things for us.

Bantock, best-known for his Griffin & Sabine trilogy, has given his unique visual treatment to the Coleridge classic, Kubla Khan. Born of an opium dream, the Coleridge poem is an amazing testament to the luxurious court presided over by the founder of a dynasty in 13th-century China.

Bantock goes Coleridge one better, taking words dipped in fevered honey and applying his own mad sense of visual meaning upon them. But this isn't just art; this is a pop-up book, where the art moves and changes shapes as the pages turn. And so, when "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree," we get to see on the very first page that dome arise, intricately woven together with thin cardboard and yet impressive in its construction nonetheless. Where "there were gardens bright with sinuous rills," we get lush plantlife moving in the wind, a bat with paper-thin wings following the insects drawn there by "many an incense-bearing tree." Rocks explode and dance "like rebounding hail, / Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail" in the uproar below, as the cry of war arises "'mid this tumult."

Pop-up art isn't a normal medium for the classics of prose and poetry, but Bantock has done a great job of translating one art form into the other. Anyone who appreciates the power of Coleridge's words will get a kick out of Bantock's interpretation.

[ by Tom Knapp ]