Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 26 Jun 2017

Pauline Baynes (1922-2008)

I find it almost impossible to think about C.S. Lewis’s Nania fantasy without the drawings of Pauline Baynes to help me make his world real. Although it was through reading Lewis that I first became aware of her work she was, by the time she came to do these drawings, a well-established children’s book illustrator and no stranger to fantasy settings. In 1948 as a still unknown young artist Baynes’ work was spotted by Tolkien  who immediately saw the potential of using her to illustrate his books, starting with Farmer Giles of Ham and eventually The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, Tree and Leaf and (after the author's death) the poem Bilbo's Last Song. She began work on The Chronicles of Narnia in 1950 and these kept her occupied through to 1956. Whilst her relationship with Tolkien seemed genuinely affectionate on both sides, she had a much more professional relationship with Lewis and they only met twice. Some reports claim that Baynes was offended by Lewis’s reported view that she couldn’t draw lions!


One of the very distinctive features of both Lewis’s and Tolkien’s books is the use of beautifully imagined and produced maps – something Baynes was ideally placed to provide having spent some time early in her adult life in the Ministry of Defence map-making department. She’d arrived there via Farnham School of Art and The Slade, which she left after only a year, volunteering for MoD duties in the war.


Baynes seemed to like big projects and her favourite seems to have been a two year mission to illustrate A Dictionary of Chivalry, edited by Grant Uden and published by Longman in 1968. This endeavour won her the Kate Greenaway Medal and joins just one other non-fiction publication to be given the award.


In the 1980s she took on the job of illustrating The Borrowers from Diana Stanley  – providing drawings for the final book in series, The Borrowers Avenged, and then new covers for all the subsequent Puffin reprints.

Baynes married a German ex-prisoner of war, Fritz Otto Gasch, in 1961. The website set up to showcase her work describes her  in this way:

"In 1961, Baynes met Fritz Gasch, a German ex-prisoner of war who was working locally as a dog's-meat man. A whirlwind courtship led to their marriage. They were a close couple and Fritz became especially friendly with Tolkien and Shepard, with whom he traded war memories. Fritz's sudden death, in 1988, left Baynes bereft but she poured her energies into her work and produced some of her most accomplished pieces. 

Then two years later Pauline Baynes received, from out of the blue, a telephone call from a daughter of Gasch's by his first, pre-war, marriage. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, the daughter had discovered that her father had stayed on in England after the war and that he had remarried. She had never met him, but was delighted to find the woman who had loved him; and so in old age Pauline Baynes found that she had a family after all. "It was," she said, "like something magical coming back at me through a wardrobe." 


She continued working right through until her death in 2008 when she left behind a partly finished Aesop’s Fables and a decorative version of the Koran. However, despite all the other projects she worked on, it is illustrations for The Chronicles of Narnia that make her instantly recognisable to new generations of readers and which, for older people like me, have the power to whisk me back to the first time I sat down to enter the world she created with C.S. Lewis.




Terry Potter

June 2017