The Written Image: Raven Girl

From the July/August 2013 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

“Once there was a postman who fell in love with a raven.” So goes the opening line of Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger’s new illustrated fairy tale for adults, published in May by Abrams’s ComicArts imprint. The book tells the story of Raven Girl, the suburban love child of a postman and a raven who, trapped inside the body of a girl, longs to trade her arms for wings, and it features twenty original aquatint illustrations, including the two below, all etched and painted by Niffenegger. The author of the novels The Time Traveler’s Wife (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004) and Her Fearful Symmetry (Scribner, 2009), Niffenegger is no stranger to the surreal, nor is she new to illustration, having written and drawn two previous illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress, and the graphic novel The Night Bookmobile, all published by ComicArts. Niffenegger says the idea for Raven Girl began when a choreographer at London’s Royal Ballet asked her to produce a dark fairy tale to be adapted into a new dance. The author had conceived of a bird-girl character years before, and wanted to incorporate her into the piece. “Fairy tales are full of transformations,” Niffenegger recently wrote in the Guardian. “Princes become frogs, mermaids lose their tails and become servant girls, pumpkins become coaches, babies become pigs, and then they all convert back again. It’s a very fluid world. And ballet is full of birds, though usually the birds are glorious (swans, firebirds) and I suddenly realized that my bird girl was actually a raven girl, more gothic than glamorous.” Raven Girl premiered at the Royal Opera House in London in May.


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Raven Girl

The Canadian writer Carles DeLint has published several stories in which Raven Girls appear, sometimes [mostly?] as a kind of chorus.