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.|
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...