Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In the mid sixties Dick apparently got interested in the teachings of Sufiism, a middle eastern philosophy from the middle ages, and around 1966, he collaborated with Idries Shah on a series of books. Shah had written "The Sufis", the seminal work on Sufiism and was now collecting the Folk tales about the famous Mulla Nasrudin.
Nasrudin, who is known throughout the middle east and Russia, combines the figures of Teacher and fool, sometimes based on the idea, that, if you make a preposterous statement to your pupil, the pupil, by contradicting you, will have to reason his own way to the truth.
I am pretty convinced that Dick illustrated 2 books for Shah,
The exploits of the incomparable Mulla Nasrudin
of which I have a copy, and
The pleasantries of the incredible Mulla Nasrudin
which I once had a snoop through at Dick Purdums house.
The stories are mostly philosophical jokes and some of them resemble parabels that I remember being told in my childhood, so the basic concept seems to be a universal one. They're great fun and the illustrations are a perfect match for the strange tales.
The interesting thing is how many elements in the illustrations are predecessors of what would ultimately become the "Thief style".
Middle eastern illustrations, the influence for the backgrounds in the movie, rely heavily on the use of perfect geometrical patterns, that have an almost mathematical quality to them.
I remember, working up patterns for the crane across the golden city up to the minaret and being amazed by their logic.
Patterns that looked like a collection of star shapes would turn out to be nothing else but lines that turned left and right alternatively, but would weave over and under the lines they met in perfect regularity.
This created quite remarkably complex patterns.
Just look at the scene where Zig Zag contemplates men being "fools who walk in dreams" in his study.
The window in the background consists of ten pronged stars, surrounded by ten diamonds, interspersed with ten pentagons and ten pentagrams, before repeating again, yet, it's just bars going: turn right, over, under, turn left, over, under and so on.
Quite apart from the use of arabic patterns, the illustrations also featured many characters that resemble those in the film.
There is a Proto-thief, a Proto princess and many references to the Escher style optical jiggery pokery that later made up King Nod's palace.
Being a great fan of mathematical games and conundrums, I'm sure I will come back to these patterns later, especially when it comes to the work of Roy Naisbitt, the single most important influence in my life, as far as what "really melts my butter" is concerned, when it comes to graphic translations of reality into screen imagery.
I include some images from the book, published by Jonathan Cape.
There must, at some time, have been the plan to turn Nasrudin into a series of animated films because piles of boxes labelled with that name were populating the shelves at the forum, and many a rough animation on the theme seems to have been canibalized to populate the scenes of the final movie.
Incidentally Dick fell out with Shah after illustrating the book and there are rumours that Zig Zag is based on the character of the great Sufi master.
After what I heard Dick say about his film-villain, I would be very interested to meet Shah, with his 12 fingers, extra digits, two elbows on each arm and two arses...
Anyway, here's a Nasrudin Story:
In a dream Nasrudin saw himself being given money.
When there were nine silver pieces in his hand, the invisible donor stopped giving them.
Nasrudin shouted: "I must have ten" so loudly that he woke himself up.
Finding that all the money had gone, he closed his eyes again and murmured:
All right then, I'll take the nine...