Illustrated postcard correspondence reveals the developing relationship between two strangers, Griffin and Sabine; oceans – and maybe something else – separates them.
I crave an art that passionately transcends the mundane.
Reading Griffin & Sabine brings the same joy as reading the newest Caldecott winner, perusing your grandmother’s old letters, viewing an artist’s retrospective, and sleuthing through an Agatha Christie novel. Bantock is a remarkable artist, and the postcard illustrations gesture toward the narrative’s meaning and mood instead of illustrating them verbatim. The postcards are so stunning, the boxed set runs around 55.00 USD on Amazon. To see his latest work, you can visit his Etsy page. While this digression doesn’t discuss the reading, it’s important to convey just how spectacular these faux reproductions are.
The story itself is a mysterious tale about two artists: a classically trained artist now postcard-maker Griffin, and Sabine, who designs stamps for the fictions South Pacific island nation The Sicmon Islands under the official title “Sicmon Philatelic Designer.” Book One opens with a postcard to Griffin asking for one of his postcards and a comment about one of his artistic choices. The next page reveals the finished postcard previously mentioned by Sabine, and the reverse page shows Griffin’s unnerved response: “But should I know you? I can’t fathom out how you were aware of my first, broken cup, sketch for this card… Please enlighten me.” And so the story goes. Sabine describes the visual telepathic link she shares with Griffin, and the two become lovers from afar. The remaining two books depict their separate artistic and self-actualization journeys, while the question remains, “Will they ever meet?”
I won’t spoil it. After reading and rereading, I’m not sure I even could.
Turning and turning in
So reads the book’s epigraph, a direct reference to W. B. Yeat’s “The Second Coming.” If you, like me, miss that reference, Bantock gives you a second chance with Griffin’s street address: “41 Yeats Avenue” and the image of what could be a baby falcon paired with two quills.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Many artists and writers reference the line, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” but these books revolve less around ruin and more around disintegration. Since the whole story is told through letters, these characters literally “cannot hear” each other. The line reverberates through the whole story. Postcards from both depict falcons and birds, and Griffin’s inability to share Sabine’s visual telepathic link makes the lines literal.
somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The name Griffin also captures the poem: his name is both the lion with a head of a man. In his missives, he also mentions, “slipping into my drowning pool” and, “I’m the barbarian stalking.”
Because we dream in pictures, not words?
If Griffin is the beast, Sabine might be the woman or muse to save him. Indeed, her first postcard affirms his artistic decisions. She is also the adopted daughter of a midwife, a profession responsible for bringing out life/creation, and a museum curator, one responsible for collecting and caring for artistic works. Griffin’s first postcard might also allude to the classical device, the invocation of the muse when he says, “Please enlighten me!” Later he directly asks Sabine for “magic to heal his soul.” Their relationship is not just romantic but also deeply rooted in poetry, epic, architypes, and art.
…stalking the temples of Kyoto for long-departed wisdom
Were I to teach…
Reading and rereading this collection is like being inside the first line of Yeat’s poem: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” and there are multiple points of entry. I would suggest for students to get lost and to suggest interpretations and patterns. Here are a few ideas:
- Stamps: Is there a pattern to the images depicted on the stamps? What about the number of stamps? Does Bantock use multiple stamps to suggest distance between Griffin and Sabine? Whereas one stamp suggests unity?
- Art History: While Sabine does not title her postcards, Griffin does. One such is titled “Man Descending a Staircase,” which I see as a direct reference to DuChamp. Are there others?
- Illustration: How do the postcards “illustrate” the narrative?
- Names: Griffin and Yeats Avenue are direct references to “The Second Coming,” but are there others? What might Sabine suggest? And what about the Sicmon Islands?
- Geography: In both the second and third book, the characters travel to numerous places: Devon, Egypt, Japan, and Australia, to name a few. Why these places? What makes them special and what does it add to the narrative?
- Freud, Jung, and the Spiritus Mundi: Sabine’s art evokes Primitivism and Griffin’s postcards sometimes include bananas. What might Freud say about his work? What archetypes would Jung find? What about this Spiritus Mundi?
- Solve the mystery: What is your hypothesis? And add your interpretation to the web.
In the end, were I to teach this collection, I’d ask students to enlighten me.