Here is the next in my series of posts on book covers, this time those for Thunder on the Right. This is the novel Mary Stewart wrote after Madam, Will You Talk? and before Wildfire at Midnight – but problems with Thunder delayed its publication until a year after Wildfire was published. In ‘About Mary Stewart’ (1970), she writes that:
The publishers’ guidance about length, construction, and various technical points in my first novel made me realise that Thunder on the Right in its unlicked form would never do… I re-wrote Thunder on the Right. I had used a different approach for it – third person instead of first – but found it awkward, so from Wildfire onwards kept to the first-person narrative.
The author has no fondness for Thunder: in Roy Newquists’s book of interviews, ‘Counterpoint’ (1965), Mary Stewart is quoted as saying:
The least favorite is simple: Thunder on the Right. I detest that book, I’m ashamed of it, and I’d like to see it drowned beyond recovery. It’s overwritten. It was actually the second book I wrote, and for some strange reason I went overboard, splurged with adjectives, all colored purple.
This reminds me of Agatha Christie’s growing dislike for Poirot (I love Hercule Poirot). Authors may detest some of their output but it does not follow that readers detest these things too: I have not met anyone who puts Thunder at the top of their list of favourite Mary Stewart novels but neither have I heard anyone condemn it as Mary Stewart does. I find it an enjoyable read. But you will notice that Thunder is not included in any of the omnibus editions I own: I wonder if its omission was influenced by Mary Stewart’s feelings or whether it was excluded because of relatively poor sales? Okay, let’s take a look at my copies.
1957, Woman (magazine published by Odhams Press Ltd), Week Ending May 18 1957 (Vol 40, Number 1040): I adore this magazine serial (what’s not to love about a 1950s magazine that has Elizabeth Taylor advertising Lux Toilet Soap and a bread advert called The Day the T.V. Set Arrived?). We can see that Thunder on the Right is renamed as ‘The Small Blue Flower’. This illustration by John Heseltine is captioned: ‘Stephen’s arms tightened round Jennifer. His head went down and his heart beat wildly’.
1957, Hodder & Stoughton, UK, first edition: can you see the illustrator’s signature, Eleanor Poore, on the right? – she also illustrated Madam, Will You Talk?, Wildfire at Midnight and Nine Coaches Waiting. This cover image is too ‘busy’ for me, and I don’t much care for the figures, although I do quite like the odd wash of blue, yellow and pink over the inked drawing. I am really happy to own this first edition but that doesn’t make me a huge fan of the cover.
1966, Hodder, fifth impression of paperback edition: I like this cover, the best thing about it is its sheer impracticability – it is difficult to see whether Jennifer is part-way up a mountainside but she is certainly outdoors with really, really elaborate 60s hair and a slinky baby-pink dress. I can only just manage a ponytail so I have no idea how anyone could achieve that hairstyle… Despite the bridesmaid look, I like the sense of movement in Jennifer’s pose and in what I think is a gauzy white wrap. The convent looks beautifully remote and forbidding too.
1969, Hodder, sixth impression of paperback edition: déjà vu, anyone?! I wonder who decided just to re-use the same image but thought that it needed to be surrounded by a more markedly feminine colour? “Sure, it’s a baby-pink dress but we need to throw some purple in there”. Hmm.
1972, Coronet paperback, eighth impression: this is a beautiful cover, all those creamy tones contrasting with Jennifer’s hair, the blue flowers, the convent and the overturned car. This image contains many details relating to the plot but also manages to look effortlessly glamorous. So let’s not quibble about what has happened to Jennifer’s ‘pale-gold hair’, let’s simply enjoy this wonderful cover art:
1991, Coronet, twenty-fourth impression: this is a rather bland cover but matches my sense of the setting much more than the first edition cover by Eleanor Poore. I like the impression of heat and dust in the wooded mountains but Jennifer looks rather ordinary in her blue skirt compared to the fabulous, impossible gowns we see in other covers.
2011, Hodder paperback. As I always state, I’m not hugely keen on the 2011 set of Mary Stewarts, I think the original Gerd Hartung fashion illustrations look much better with background and context – look here to see what I mean. This cover illustration is ©Robyn Neild, ©Gerd Hartnung/akg-images. I have to point out that this dress has a pocket and what is more it is large enough to contain a human hand, making it an actual practical and useful pocket: can we have more of this in women’s clothing please?
You can read about how I gave away my copy of this edition via BookCrossing here.
Finally, I am ending once again with a cover I would like to have, the 2017 Hodder: I think this is a great cover from font to mean-and-moody landscape and I hope to buy it soon.
So these are my Thunder on the Right book covers – do you have a better cover? Are any of these covers your favourite? Please get in touch and let me know!