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The Order of Oddfish

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Odd-Fish Art by Thomas Kendall: Inside Dame Myra’s Greenhouse

February 4, 2013

The Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is this coming Sunday, but today let’s check out some beautiful art inspired by The Order of Odd-Fish that I found recently!

In the book, Dame Myra is the Odd-Fish knight who studies Improbable Botany. These pictures of Dame Myra’s greenhouse on the top of the lodge, and the bizarre plants one might find within, are by the young and enviably talented Thomas Kendall of London. He’s associated with the folks at the Urban Physic Garden and Registry for Wayward Plants, two groups that one associates quite naturally with improbable botany! (And indeed, they are planning a special “Improbable Botany” exhibition this summer in London, and I’m contributing a short story to their upcoming anthology based on the theme of Improbable Botany. More on that in future posts! It’s exiting stuff!)

If you want to see all these pictures on Thomas’ blog, check it out here. Above we see Thomas’ vision of the greenhouse. As he says on his blog, “Run by Dame Myra, the greenhouse at the Order of Odd Fish is filled with strange, exotic and completely unknown plants of the kind that we don’t believe exist in our world.” Beautifully done!

But that’s just the beginning! Here is some improbable botany Thomas invented for the greenhouse, a “balloon fruit”:

According to Thomas,

This plant is a parasite. It draws its nutrients from the tree it latches on to but it gets pollinated by the rare and noble gases in the air around it. It has a tiny delicate flower nestled at the heart of its leaves which has a small vacuum inside to pull in the gases. As the fruit ripens it fills with new flavorsome vapours which cause it to float. Once the fruit is mature it detaches and floats away. Harvesters cover trees in gigantic but fine nets to trap the striped fruits. Once rotten though the gas escapes and it falls to the ground with a squish and disperses the seeds.

Brilliant! I wish that was in the book! This is what I like best about seeing Odd-Fish art: the way different artists expand the world of the book according to their own interests and ideas, extending it in all sorts of interesting ways.

But Thomas isn’t done yet. Behold the Cat’s Cradle Tree:

Take it away, Thomas:

This tree grows in particularly arid areas. What appears as a barren trunk in periods of drought, sprouts vines in rain season. These vines knot and twist together to form elaborate patterns. These vines draw water and nutrients from the air and surrounding soil which fattens the trunk to maintain its life span through the dry seasons. In these seasons it returns to a bare trunk pulling in all the vines to protect them.

This makes me want to write an entire book just about Dame Myra and her adventures in a world of plants created by Thomas! One more, the Apple of My Eye:

Explanation, Thomas?

This plant is the result of nymphs mating with trees on an all-too-regular basis. Over time the trees have gained human characteristics. What was a traditional English Cox’s apple has developed eyes… Its center is filled with an apple-flavoured aqueous humour and the leaves grew eyelashes to swat away unwelcome insects.

I like a fellow who can deploy a term like “apple-flavoured aqueous humour” with such aplomb. And these sketches are all absolutely first-rate, glorious! Thanks a million, Thomas—and I hope to meet you this summer as the Improbable Botany exhibition gains steam!