Sunday 19 February 2017

The Visions of Ichabod X

The Visions of Ichabod X by Gary Crew, illustrated by Paul O’Sullivan (Harbour Publishing House) HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 9781922134547

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

With all the intrigue that is synonymous with the writing of Gary Crew, The Visions of Ichabod X is a picture book which mixes the past with the future to convey a powerful and significant message of environmental sustainability. Narrated in the hypnotic voice of the ageing caretaker of Raven’s Eye Cemetery, the tale begins as he explains how one headstone has always puzzled him, that of Ichabod X.  This stone, which commemorates the short life of the gypsy child Ichabod, shows no signs of the wearing of the elements, despite the decay of others and that of the crumbling church that sits in the grounds. 

Years before, so the caretaker reveals, the mysterious boy had appeared to warn the man of the perilous future of the earth. The boy leaves behind him curious contraptions, his “aids to see the future”. As mysteriously as Ichabod appears, he never returns. From this point,  the reflections of the caretaker and his drawings, what he imagines Ichabod could see, continue wordlessly to an ending which challenges the reader to imagine and reflect.

The illustrations are equally as intriguing as the text. Steeped in sepia tones to create a sense of vintage combined with steam punk images, Paul O’Sullivan enhances the tale and provides a deeper level of meaning for the engaged reader. Exploring the symbolism is absorbing and a catalyst for discussion. Biblical references are significant and are not confined to Ichabod (the Book of Samuel), the raven (perhaps the all-seeing God’s messenger) and the old man’s biblical quote of, “There is a time for everything…”. The oak tree and oak leaf represent endurance, wisdom, strength and significantly, new life. 

Throughout the tale, the clocks, and timepieces, both broken and intact suggest to the reader that time is running out. There are so many layers to peel, with the “unlocking” of colour being a symbolic transition to a series of wordless double-page spreads that delve deeply into the conflict between nature and the industrialised world.

I continue to return to The Visions of Ichabod X and each time I am delighted to make a new discovery. This is a text for the late primary years and up. It is a thought-provoking tale which will challenge the reader to explore their own perspective on the future of the earth. 

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