Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bee on the Comb

Book Without a Name
Kit Williams ~ Knopf, 1984

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while might remember me mentioning that the search for the treasures in both this book and its prequel -- Masquerade -- took up an extended chunk of my childhood. And while I've given both books away before, I've never actually written this one up. Many years of my youth were spent with my mother, my sisters and me scouring the pages and images in these books, trying to piece together the hints that would first lead us to the place where the Masquerade treasure was buried (a golden rabbit covered in jewels handcrafted by the artist himself) and then to find the name of this book that eventually was revealed to be The Bee on the Comb. The real life prize for guessing the title of the book was a handcrafted mahogany box with a golden bee and a copy of the book with the revealed title inside.

You had to send the guesses to Kit, but you couldn't write the answer. You had to create something that told the answer without spelling it out. I don't remember if our guess was right, but I do remember my mother making a bee hive out of balsa wood, burning in the combs and then covering it in beeswax. We went to a junk jewelry shop to find a bee to affix to it and my mother wrapped it in four boxes, each one decorated to represent a different season.

I don't believe there have ever been books published that are quite as mysterious, enchanting and all consuming as these were. Kit Williams is a flipping genius, no two ways about it. Here the paintings speak for themselves, along with the elaborate woodwork that surrounds them. The story involves Spring herself and a simple beekeeper and is told in eloquent verse with poems scattered throughout.

Without a city there is a house
That's made entirely of wood,
Where live ten thousand daughters
That work for a common good.
One mother hath these daughters
And on her wedding day,
She became a widow
And royal sisters did she slay.

I would literally cut off my left arm for one of his paintings, but alas, they are hard to come by... If you want to learn more about the books, the phenomenon and the man himself, the BBC did a great where-are-they-now sort of a documentary recently that you can see on Youtube in six parts, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I almost can not think about this man or these books without weeping, such an integral part of my imagination and youth as they were. I imagine there are many folks out there with these same emotional ties. Utterly astounding is his talent.

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Unknown said...

oh, scribbler. this is fascinating. and really amazing. xoxo

Kimberly said...

Cool! After reading this post, I just ordered copies of both this book and Masquerade. I loved reading about how your family so actively embraced the search for this book's title in your youth.

Anonymous said...


Sam and Boo Book Reviews said...

This looks absolutely amazing!

Nan said...

That clip was important for me to see. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I came across this page! I remember reading this book at the hiking lodge my parents took me to when I was little, about 20 years ago. I couldn't remember the name of the author and have been trying to find it ever since. I found it on your page and just ordered a copy online. I'm so excited to read it again. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I got this book from Santa when I was in 4th or 5th grade. My mother was a beekeeper, so I was familiar with the bees themselves and I loved all the little details - the flowers, the hidden pictures. You have inspired me to get a second copy to take apart and frame the pictures - they're too lovely to be hidden away.

Philip Lowe said...

Lovely- I too was caught up in Masquerade; for the bed book I sent kit a picture few driving the title of the book which was chosen of about 40 others to be included in his HIVE OF INDUSTRY exhibition at the Usher Gallery Lincoln x

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