Hard to believe that twenty years ago a picture book that I wrote and illustrated titled The Tale of Hilda Louise was published. This is the only time in my career that I did the illustrations in oils—large oil paintings 18″x24″. I was going through my Edward Hopper phase and wanted the pictures to have the same stark moodiness that can be seen in his paintings. The story is set in Paris at the turn-of-the-century. I loved this book until my editor convinced me to rip the heart out of the story. This will never happen again.
Hilda Louise is an orphan. Until one day something very strange and very magical changed her life. She starts floating. She floats all over Paris and in the pictures you see an artist below her busily engaged in painting. She sees him, but he never sees her.
At the end of the original story Hilda Louise starts to descend from the sky, floats through an open window of a top floor garret, and there is the painter. He looks up, sees Hilda Louise floating just above his head and cries out, “Ah, ma cherie, at last I found you.” Hilda Louise replies “Non, Papa, it is I who have found you.”
My editor at the time felt strongly that Hilda Louise could NOT be an orphan IF her father was to be discovered to be alive and well at the end of the story. I argued that at the beginning of the story the reader doesn’t know that the father is still around. After many unhappy discussions I finally agreed to change the story from Hilda Louise finding her father to finding her uncle. NOT the same impact. NOT the same compelling reunion. The heart of the story was ripped out.
AND…another wonderful line was cut from the story because of this change: Hilda Louise asks her father where her mother is and his reply is, “Ah, I lost her somewhere on the Left Bank.”
As a result of this story being so drastically changed I learned to trust my own instincts as a writer. Never again will I let any editor tamper with the original intent of my words.
There is a great deal of symbolism in this simple story. The most important being that Hilda Louise’s “floating” symbolizes hope. Her hope of finding her mother and father. Her hope of having a better life outside the orphanage.
The final ending of the story did remain intact, thank the bees and trees. When Hilda Louise and her father return to Mes Petits Choux Orphanage to visit Mme Zanzibar remarks to Hilda Louise, “Hilda Louise, did I tell you that little Marian Lee has begun floating?” Hilda Louise and her father look up and there, above their heads, is little Marian Lee polishing the crystal chandelier.
Again, the concept here is that yet another orphan may have a brighter future.
The name Hilda Louise is taken from two of my favorite aunts—my mother’s sister, Aunt Hilda and my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Louise. Little Marian Lee’s name is that of my mother.