Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Ship That Sailed to Mars: A Centenary

The Ship That Sailed to Mars is a book of legendary beauty and equally legendary rarity, written and illustrated by the English-born artist William Mitcheson Timlin (1892-1943) who spent much of his life in South Africa. A large oversized book, with the text hand-lettered by the author/illustrator, and with 48 full-color plates, the book was originally issued in November 1923 an edition of only 2,000 copies (priced astronomically at 42s. each, with 250 of these shipped to America and sold by Frederick A. Stokes for $12 per copy).

The story is basically a fairy-tale, despite the science-fictional overtones of the title. It tells of an elderly inventor who designs and—with the help of fairies—builds a huge ship (that looks almost exactly like a terrestrial sailing ship) which he sails to Mars, a planet with its own fairies who have troubles of their own, which the inventor helps to solve. The story is in many ways slight, but with the added dimension of the Rackham-esque illustrations, one finds a unique charm in the book. Timlin made pictures for a second book, The Building of a Fairy City, which was regrettably never published, though some of the artwork was reportedly issued in South Africa on picture postcards.*

There have been a number of reprints of The Ship That Sailed to Mars in the modern era, some elegant, if overdone (Easton Press), and others less special (StoneWall Publications), but hands-down the nicest and best value for its price is the one from Calla Editions (an imprint of Dover) ISBN: 9781606600177, with an Introduction by artist John Howe.

Ray Russell has a short video here showcasing a copy of the original 1923 edition, one hundred years old this month.  

*The first two paragraphs are reprinted from my Late Reviews (2018).

1 comment:

  1. I've got my Calla edition! Hmm, maybe I should finally read it.