I originally wrote and illustrated The Eagle and the Songbird in 1977 at the age of 29. At that time I had not yet ventured out on my own as a graphic designer, and hoped one day to become an illustrator—primarily of children’s books. I soon realized that my skills weren’t suited for that marketplace, since I wasn’t able to take artistic direction very well, my drawing style was too complex, and my processes too unconventional for me to take on most assignments.
I began many of my pen and ink drawings by beginning at the top left corner of a sheet of illustration board, and working my way diagonally across to the lower right corner having only the most general idea of how the piece would come together.
I conceived of the story for The Eagle and the Songbird as I was already working on the cover illustration, and flipped between the story and drawings as the project unfolded. By the time the story was completed, I had eight finished illustrations, the last of which was the eagle in the bell jar, with the concept based on Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar, which by many reviewers has been considered “a metaphor for depression.”
Over the years I lost the story, of which I had only one typewritten copy. Fortunately, I preserved all of the drawings, except for one—of the eagle seeing his reflection in a large body of water.
Recently I had all of the remaining illustrations framed, and hung five of them in the guest room where my granddaughter Lucy sleeps when she comes to visit. Lucy also has one I gave to her: the woman throwing fruit at the eagle as he tries to scare her and her son. The drawing of bird at the piano was given to my two other granddaughters.
Although the illustrations evolved parallel to the storyline, they are not literal representations of the action or the characters, in that the birds in the drawings have hands as well as claws, and the songbird has a tiffany lamp, and an upright piano in his cage, which aren’t mentioned in the story. The eagle’s nest in the cover illustration features a ’70s-style TV, a bag of Ripple potato chips, and a framed print of Grant Wood’s painting “American Gothic.” And the eagle’s drinking beer, which is not included in the story, and is too adult for any book targeted towards the children’s marketplace.
As a break from other writing projects, my wife, Barbara, suggested I recreate the story based on what I remember of it. At the time I wrote the book, I was influenced by many authors, including Plath, Dreiser and Fitzgerald, but also by my impoverished background that didn’t afford me many luxuries growing up. While other young people traveled, attended summer camp, learned to ski, and eventually to visited prospective out-of-town colleges, I had few short term goals except to keep up the maintenance on my car, and try to find a job I could endure.
The eagle represented the freedom I believed I didn’t have, and the songbird represented the constraints that pushed me towards simpler objectives I could afford or attain without much education.
This updated version follows a similar storyline as the one I conceived 46 years ago, but it’s much better edited, due to the skills of Manfred Roesler, a bit longer and, I believe, a more thought provoking read. It also reflects the differences that age can make in the way we interpret our lives.
For me, this rewrite provides closure on a period in my life fraught with the challenges I faced and the many realities that were in opposition to my vision for the future.
— George H. Rothacker, 2022