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12.14.2010

Jonah and the Great Fish (1983)

Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton


Warwick Hutton is growing on me. He seemed a bit stale in Theseus and the Minotaur, but now I am finding something endearing about his simple illustrations. I notice too that he likes to draw people very small. He is not one for close-ups. On most pages, the main characters are tiny figures surrounded by the larger landscape which seems more Hutton's forte. I feel like if he could do a whole book that was composed of nothing but seascapes and mountains, he would.

In this book, the perspective really works. I felt like I was watching events unfold from God's point of view. On the very first page, Jonah stands looking out at us - the audience - with something of a perplexed expression on his face. The text informs us that God has just spoken to him, saying, "Arise and go to the city of Nineveh!"

Of course, Jonah immediately bolts. Wouldn't you?

We see him next as a tiny figure careening through the streets, trying to outrun the presence of the supernatural, to lose himself in the crowds. Eventually, he finds himself by the ports where he books passage on the first ship that will take him, bound for Tarshish. It's not mentioned in this version of the story, but from what I understand, Tarshish is located in the exact opposite direction as Nineveh.

Who, me?

But there is no escaping from God. That, more than anything, seems to be the point of this story: You can run, but you can't hide.

The ship set sail, but almost at once the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest. The wind and the waves grew ever more threatening.

Hutton is really in his element here, with the black clouds intruding upon the blue sky, the crashing waves and the fleeing dolphins and seagulls. Eventually, Jonah comes clean. He announces to the sailors who he is, why God is angry with him. "Throw me into the sea!" he says. "Only then will the waters be calm!"


The sailors do throw him overboard, all the meanwhile begging his forgiveness. It might have been nice for Jonah to spare them this grief, and instead just jump into the waters himself. Nevertheless, once Jonah is overboard, Hutton returns to his long-view approach, and we see the blanket of the ocean has settled down.

However, beneath the tiny ship, the dark shape of the great fish swims near. It has an ominous feel, which I liked very much.

For three days and three nights, Jonah lives within the belly of the beast, all the meanwhile praying, "Lord, help me. You have cast me into the deep. Water stretches for miles around me. Vast waves roll over my head. I am banished from your sight. I will never again disobey your word, if only I can be saved, and from now on I will praise you and give thanks to you."


Now, if it were me, I would have said, "Oh, come on, you're only saying that because I was trying to kill you!" But, I guess God must have though Jonah was being sincere, because on the next page, Jonah is vomited up on shore, along with other smelly, partially-digested fish and eels. He is free, and has no doubt learned his lesson about the futility of rebelling against an all-powerful being.

The story ends with this, "Jonah went to Nineveh as the Lord had commanded. And the people of Nineveh gave up their evil ways and believed in the Lord."


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