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Elephants and paradise, Babar and Milton

November 17, 2008 |  7:52 am


What do John Milton and the elephant Babar have in common? They're both currently on display, in a fashion, at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of MIlton's birth, the only surviving manuscript of "Paradise Lost" is the main attraction at the museum's Milton exhibit. The manuscript was transcribed and corrected at Milton's direction, and was used to set the type for the poem's first printing, in 1667. Other versions of the poem are also on display, along with other Milton items, including a rarely seen miniature portrait.

The exhibition "Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors" includes images by both the original author, Jean de Brunhoff, and his son, Laurent, who continued the series after his father's death. Babar has been popular with children since the publication of the first book, "Histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant," in 1931. In more recent decades, the series has come under fire as being a cheery allegory of French colonialization -- a theory that Adam Gopnik both explained and countered in a New Yorker article in September. Babar and his elephant family can be seen, in sketches and drafts, at the exhibit, along with first editions of the books, published in oversize format.

Both exhibits have been open since September and will close on Jan. 4. So if you have occasion to travel through New York during the holidays, there's still a chance to see the shows, if you can make it to 36th and Madison (any day but Monday) and have $12 in your pocket.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Images of Babar and "Paradise Lost" courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum