Lona: A Fairy Tale by Dare Wright

Lona: A Fairy Tale (50th Anniversary Edition) by Dare Wright.
Dare Wright Media, 2013.

Earlier this summer, I finally got around to reading The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright by Jean Nathan.

Henry Holt and Co.
September 2004

 I had read articles about Dare Wright before.  I had heard this episode of This American Life on public radio.  (It's the middle segment.  If you'd rather read it than listen to it, the transcript is also online.)  Dare Wright was an amazing person.  She looked like the 1959 Barbie come to life and had a career as a fashion model to show for it.  She became a photographer, working for the occasional fashion magazine, then a children's book author and illustrator.  She and her mother were amazing do-it-yourself-ers.  They designed and sewed their own clothes and costumes, and built their own furniture.  They also had an unusually close and intense relationship.  Dare may have been (mutually) in love with her brother, from whom she had been separated as a small child.  She became an alcoholic later in life.  Her life story, now that it has been told, tends to color the modern view of her Edith books.  Edith is The Lonely Doll, which I do own, but I don't want to cover here because of the controversy surrounding it.  (It has to do with a spanking scene.)  Edith was Dare's childhood Lenci doll, that she later refashioned to look more like Dare herself.  There are quotes in the book from people who claim Dare talked to Edith, or referred to Edith as if she was a living person.  It's all very strange, and I do recommend The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, especially if you like biographies, vintage children's books, or strange stories in general. (Speaking of strange stories, have you been following this one?)

EDIT:  Brooke Ashley, Dare Wright's heir, does say that Jean Nathan changed a lot of details to make Dare's life more sordid.  It's mentioned in this essay on Rookie, and Ashley tells her story of Dare here.  It was an interesting book, but I felt I should add this disclaimer.

While Dare Wright wrote ten books starring Edith and her two bear companions, they were not her only books.  She wrote some nature books, a travel book, and books starring other dolls.  Of the doll books, there was one I was especially interested in reading.

The caption reads: Dare, at work on Lona, consults her light meter.  Brittany, France, 1961.

Lona: A Fairy Tale was first published by Random House in 1963.  The story is about a princess named Lona, kept prisoner in a tower by an evil sorcerer named Druth, who is angry because he cannot enchant princesses.  In his anger, he has cast spells over three separate kingdoms, including Lona's own.  Lona befriends a frog, who is really a prince that was enchanted by Druth.


The frog tells her she can break the enchantments, but after doing so, she must let Druth enchant her.  This will bring about Druth's end.  However, Lona must never become scared or run away, or Druth will start to gain power.  Lona is portrayed by Dare herself, until the moment Lona runs back to her room in the castle in fright.  Druth is able to shrink her, and for most of the book, Princess Lona is played by a doll.



 The tiny Lona must venture to find the magic instruments that will break the spells over the three kingdoms.  She succeeds and restores herself to her full size.





Once she has transformed the frog back into a prince, she calls Druth's name three times and allows herself to be transformed by him.  The last paragraph explains that the couple later returns to the kingdom, both in human form, but all we know is they found someone somewhere to break the spell.

It isn't a perfect story, but it has its charms.  The pictures make the book, of course.  The moody black and white images are beautiful.  My copy of the book is the 50th anniversary paperback edition, recently published by Dare Wright's estate.  Unfortunately, the quality of the printing leaves something to be desired.  I ignored at least one disgruntled review on Amazon because I wanted so badly to read it, and used hardcover copies are not cheap or easy to come by.  (They start at $50 on Amazon, even higher at Alibris, AbeBooks, and Powell's, and there are none listed on eBay or Etsy.)  Disappointing, but I'm glad the books are available again, even if the copies are not as lovely as they were in the past.

By the way, the Dare Wright estate is on Pinterest!  There is a beautiful full color outtake from  Lona there.

Dolls do photograph rather beautifully in black and white.  Maybe I should start playing with dolls more.  Camera in hand, of course...




Comments

  1. This is all new to me. I've never heard of Dare Wright or any of the controversy... but it's all very intriguing. Unusual. I have a pretty large collection of porcelain dolls from my childhood. They are currently living in a big plastic bin underneath my bed. (none of my kids are aware of their existence) One day I'll get them out for Kitten. I haven't decided when or how, but I imagine she's going to be SO EXCITED when I do.

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    1. The Lonely Doll was reprinted in the late '90s for the first time in years. We always had the paperback on hand at the bookstore, and it looked so appealing, with the doll on the cover and the pink gingham-checked border. The book inspires some very strong opinions. There are people who grew up with the books, who were so happy to see it again, and there were people my age who thought it was weird, creepy or even sick. I don't really fall into either camp.

      The girls like to raid my dolls at my grandmother's. I told them that when they're ready to thin out their stuffed toys, they can put some of the dolls on display in their room. That hasn't happened yet. I hope Kitten loves hers when the time comes!

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  2. WHOA YO!!!!!!! Fascinating!!! Poor Famke Janssen, that is just BIZARRE. Woo. I'd be freaking out. I was freaking out just reading that story! Ok, so here's a funny. I got The Lonely Doll from the library a couple of years ago and I was going to profile it, and I just never got around to it and I was like, eh. I didn't know there was any controversy about it, I was just like, what a weird little book!

    I want to read that bio now! AWESOME post!!!

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    1. Dare's heir claims that much of the more sordid things in the bio are untrue. It makes a great read, anyway. I thought the Famke Janssen thing was pretty crazy. All the headlines to the story mention the "creepy doll book," which makes me roll my eyes. The spanking thing? Eh, it was the '50s, and it isn't the only kids' book or entertainment from that period to mention or depict a spanking. Edith's short skirt? Um, a LOT of little girls' dresses were shorter than the dresses I would let my girls wear now. The Our Gang girls always wore short dresses. Little girls on TV in the '50s and early '60s often wear short dresses with petticoats. Everything is hyper-sexualized now. The book is definitely a product of its time. I think the photography is interesting.

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  3. What a strange and slightly creepy story! Especially the part where she talks to her doll. I mean I love my dolls but, it's nothing like that! The doll does look gorgeous in the picture. I didn't know about this author or her controversy either.

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    1. This book is very separate from the series she is most famous for. It's written for slightly older readers, as it's a fairy tale, heavier on text. The Lonely Doll is the one she is best known for. It was reissued in 1998 after being out of print for some time. Now the whole series is being reprinted. As I said before, the heir of her estate claims many of the more sordid things in the bio were false, but it made for an interesting read.

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