THE GOLDEN KEY
by Ruth Sanderson
Reading "The Golden Key" close to forty years ago instilled in me a profound desire to some day create pictures that illuminated this evocative text. Over the years, when people have asked, “If there was one book you’d like to illustrate, what would it be?” —my answer has always been "The Golden Key" by George MacDonald. I loved the story, and the version I had was illustrated by Maurice Sendak with beautiful, dream-like pen and ink pictures. There were only 6 plates in the book, however, and I wanted to do a fully illustrated version.
In 2007 with Brian Selznick's Invention of Hugo Cabret I became aware that artists were challenging the standard format of books for children. A few years later when thinking wistfully about how The Golden Key could absolutely never be made into a picture book in this climate of shorter and shorter texts, it occurred to me that this very long story might be easily broken into chapters, as it alternates between the two characters' points of view. I also felt that 8-12 was a more suitable age group for this unusual story than that of a younger picture book audience.
In contemplating the style and medium to use, I felt that scratchboard would be perfect to convey the story's mythic quality and dramatic light and dark imagery. In my spare time between other book projects In 2011 I started to create some of the key scenes that I wanted to include in the story. My favorite scene is Tangle descending the stairway into the earth, and I always felt this was like Persephone descending into Hades.
Therefore, in the first illustration, before the text begins, the creatures in Fairyland watch the boy as he listens to his great-aunt's stories. One fairy is sitting on a tree stump with the golden key. I imagined her observing his spark of interest in the key.