The imagery in Nursery Rhymes has always struck me as very adult, not meant for a swaddling babe. It’s easy to be swept up into the gorgeous thoughts and unique vignettes of Jack Horner’s thumb in a pie, or an Egg-shaped man cracking irrevocably. Most people use these images as fodder for pastel designs and lullaby themed nurseries. Although the naive, adorable, bubbly, child loves the idea of “isty bits spiders” and “cow’s jumping over the moon”, Nursery Rhymes tend to have a more macabre, sometimes morbid meaning (seriously Ring-Around-the-Rosies is singing about the BUBONIC PLAGUE).
Images from a Roald Dahl themed shoot with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, titled “Tales of the Unexpected”, Vogue UK, 2008. Shot by Tim Walker, the editorial takes its name from Dahl’ successful short story collection. Roald Dahl plays on the platitudes and repetitive themes in most Nursery Rhymes, he even creates a re-telling of the old folktale “Cinderella”, here. Whereas most fables end with a happy, or at least meaningful resolution, Dahl allows the stories to take a wicked, if not sacrilegious turn for the worst. My favorite twisted portrayal of a common Nursery Rhyme is a poem in which Dahl has the Three Little Pigs eaten, not by the wolf, but by an upper-class Red Riding Hood herself (so that she can wear a wonderful pigskin purse of course).
Other artists who have been inspired by the oral histories of Nursery Rhymes: Lewis Carrol, Shel Silverstein, Louis Sachar, J.K. Rowling, Tim Burton, Jim Henson (HELLO DARK CRYSTAL), Henry Darger, Salman Rushdie (Haroun and The Sea of Stories), Salvador Dali, and Joseph Cornell. Can you spot the references above to Ba Ba Black Sheep, Mother Goose, Ring-around-the-Rosies, Jack Horner, Humpty Dumpty, Bo-Peep, and Hey-Diddle-Diddle?