This week, for Throwback Thursday, I publish a post from July 2016 about the memories of a much loved childhood book, The Splendour Book of Ballet, now a vintage book, by Shirley Goulden. I write about the significance of this wonderfully illustrated book on me and then on my oldest granddaughter.

Wicked Odile: don't mess with her

"Not all fairy tales have a happy ending." ~ my hubby quoting someone else I am sure.

He will most certainly be surprised when he sees I have quoted him! (evil laughter). So many people have used the quotation in one way or another that I couldn't correctly attribute it to anyone specifically.

I had writer's block for this post and rewrote the introductory paragraphs twice.

To be honest, I probably sighed once too many times. Hubby was reading his novel across from me at the kitchen table, and he decided to see if he could help me. (that's just the way he is!)

When I paint, I often have a story in mind. Sometimes, a song that I hum as I paint helps me WRITE the story. But the story itself has never been painted on canvas: this was going to be my challenge.

After I had painted the figure on the left, I thought of the ballet Swan Lake, the contrast between black and white. She became the evil woman who tried to disguise herself to fool a prince.

The story would be about the impostor Odile in confrontation with Odette, the true swan queen.

Wicked Odile

Wicked Odile confronting Odette, 9x12 acrylic on canvas.

A man is at the root of this conflict

Siegfried, the prince in Swan Lake, is a flawed character. His mother wants him to marry a suitable lady of the court, but he wants to marry for love.

Mama has some control issues to be sure; however, she may have had good reason to direct her boy to the right woman given the tragic ending to this story.

Had he listened to his one true love and waited until midnight, she would have been transformed from a swan into his dream girl.

But no! He let his impulsive nature take over and he married Odile, the sorcerer's daughter who was made to look enticing like Odette.

Siegfried is clueless

As Siegfried is about to marry Odile, the swan queen Odette is seen in the window, frantically trying to get the attention of her prince who is blissfully unaware that it isn't even midnight, and that he is being duped into marriage by an impostor.

Definitely not a man exercising good judgment.

I wonder what I must have thought long ago of Siegfried who is outwitted by the wicked Odile and her devious father. Rereading the story as an adult, Siegfried now comes across as a weak, unappealing man in comparison to every other character in Swan Lake.

In my painting, the true swan queen wears the golden crown.

The Splendour Book of Ballet
My battered copy of The Splendour Book of Ballet. I still love the art work in this treasured childhood book.

She is holding a piece of ribbon from Odile's wedding crown made of flowers with golden centres. Odette appears menacing with her outstretched wings.  Sadly, as a swan, there is nothing she can do to stop the wedding.

The Splendour Book of Ballet: a treasure of a book

I still have The Splendour Book of Ballet written Shirley Goulden (now a vintage book).

This enchanting storybook arrived in the mail for me shortly after it was published and printed in Milan, Italy, in 1962.  Although I wouldn't swear to it, I believe this was my first parcel delivered by the post office just for me. You can imagine how excited I was!

My godmother sent me this treasured gift. Growing up in a very small town in northern Ontario, I had never seen a ballet.

How many times as the years went by have I looked at this book? As a teenager who loved art, I sketched the ballerinas.

Much much later, I found the book stuffed in a box with other mementos. My boys were not interested in a book about ballerinas.

More years went by. When she was old enough to appreciate the lovely illustrations, my granddaughter would sit next to me and listen to the story.

Beautifully illustrated book

The images in the book are still magical to this day.

Maraja, (1946-1983) the Italian illustrator, skilfully illustrated the movements of the dancers in the most poignant moments of this classical ballet. (

la belle ballerine
My little ballerina at 2 years old. She loved looking at the illustrations in my book.

And so, as Swan Lake ends, Odette is dying because "her heart, so full of love, had burst with anguish, and she could no longer live. When Siegfried discovered this he wanted to die too."

Much like Romeo and Juliet, Siegfried follows his love and dies. He jumps into the lake with Odette and "the waters closed gently over their heads as the serene glow of dawn touched the tips of the trees. The storm was over."

Similarly to many other tragedies, "those who truly love can never be parted. Siegfried and Odette would stand together, in spirit, then and for always, by the quiet waters of Swan Lake."

This story proves that hubby was right (let's keep that a secret!) and not all fairy tales have a happy ending.

A simple lesson helped to get me out of my writer's block. Once again, my husband saves the day!

Share the books from childhood that have had a lasting impression on you!

Do you have a book from childhood that you simply could not give away? 

photo as model for painting
Mya at 11 years old, just like in the illustrations she saw as a child...She reminds me of the white swan!


Please comment in the Leave a Reply box below. Comments are published after I have reviewed them. Thank you.

ballerina on canvas
As yet unfinished portrait of my ballerina. Two years collecting dust!

You can read about the process in A big blank canvas is always daunting, Doubts set in on big canvas painting, and It's all about the background - Progress Report.


4 Responses

  • I love how you have written this Louise, and the art is gorgeous. Also lovely to see the photos of your grandaughter . What great memories. I lived in remote properties in the country New South Wales (Australia as you know) as a child and didn’t see a live show until I was an adult (I saw “The Phantom of the Opera”), but I had books of course. I recently gave one of my favourite books, “The Secrets of Cliff Castle” by Enid Blyton, to my oldest grandson. The book even had my childhood drawings in the blank pages at front and back lol. I have the complete set of Heidi books and I also have the series of Katie books. I plan to pass them on to my grandaughters 🙂

    • Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment Jan.

      I love discoveries like yours where you have childhood drawings that you can pass along inside the book. Were they drawings associated with the story? or random drawings…See? even then you were an artist! Your grandson must be very pleased to have been given that treasure!

      Most of my books have been given away long ago. Another book I really loved was Beautiful Jo about a mistreated dog. I want to do a blog post about that book one day.

  • Beautifully told Louise.. I just said the other day you are great at expanding dialogue, me, I précis everything.
    I have seen the ballet, Swan Lake together with The Nutcracker Suite, I was only 14 when I was taken and still think that they are the best two ballets ever.

    • I have seen both of those as well as The Merry Widow. I am not sure which would be my favourite, I think it depends on the ballet company and the particular production. I need to bring my granddaughters to see a ballet. I think they would love it. Thanks for leaving a comment, Sally

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