Sunday 9 March 2014

Low Frequency Kenneth: Searching For The Art of K. Romney Towndrow

Last week, I'd never heard of Kenneth Morris. I looked him up when a rather sad looking copy of his 1926 book The Secret Mountain and Other Tales came across my desk at Withnail Books. Now I know that he is considered, by Ursula K. LeGuin at least, to be one of three master prose stylists of fantasy in the 20th century, along with E. R. Edison and Tolkien. Clute and Grant in their Encyclopedia of Fantasy point out that "Morris's influence has been small, but he is central to the genre." There's more about Morris here

It wasn't Morris's masterful prose that caught my eye though. (Indeed, I've lost my chance to read it, as the book sold minutes after I photographed it...) It was the work of another Kenneth, K. Romney Towndrow, who supplied the 8 colour 'decorations'. They're undoubtedly the reason the book sold so quickly, as a birthday present for someone no less, even though the spine has what can only be described a 'mouse damage'. They're simple, symbolic and beautifully printed on slightly textured paper, and I'm glad I had a chance to make a photographic record of them (from a quick look, not all of them have appeared together online before). So here they are:

Alas, my quick photos don't really do them justice. In the flesh they really are rather special. They must have been even more arresting in 1926. The Secret Mountain is not a common book, and copies in jackets (and without mouse damage) can cost into three figures.

So, what else has Towndrow done? A swift search turns up very little. He wrote the text for a catalogue of the work of Alfred Stevens, and supplied the designs for these four book jackets, all absolute crackers:

... and with that, the google trail runs cold. Surely Kenneth must have other credits. Anybody out there know of any?

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