Scratchboard illustrations add atmospheric notes to MacDonald’s enigmatic tale of two children who grow old and then young again as they journey through magical lands.
The 1867 tale is full of lyrical references to color: the titular key itself, for instance, along with a mystical rainbow shining with “shade after shade beyond the violet; while before the red stood a color more gorgeous and mysterious still,” and hummingbird-feathered fish that swim through the air and are transformed (when eaten, a weirdly macabre touch) to tiny angels that “throw off a continuous shower of sparks of all colors.” Rather than try to capture these, Sanderson chooses to use a medium best suited to conveying the story’s likewise significant themes of light and shadow. But for all the expertly modeled hair, faces, and foliage in her art, the rainbow, when it does appear, looks like a monochromatic sunbeam, and shadows in some scenes are obtrusively heavy. The story's metaphors are murky where the illustrations are not, though, and that, along with the ritualistic tone, will likely leave young readers in the dark. Jane Yolen adds a biographical sketch of the author; her critical reflections on different ways of reading the strange miniodyssey only underscore its obscurity.
A Victorian-era artifact, available today in collections of the author’s works and served only partially, at best, by these new illustrations. (Illustrated short story. 9-11, adult)