It’s good to get in touch
with you at last.
Could I have one of your
It was in 2002 that I had first witnessed this ‘extraordinary correspondence’ between London artist, Griffin Moss, and stamps designer, Sabine Strohem. The first postcard, featuring a parrot, had immediately drawn me to the story. There would always be the elements of intrigue and mystery in each turn of a page. Nick Bantock’s use of ‘false documents’ gives a sense of authenticity to the story, thereby giving the readers the ‘power’ to secretly read and uncover the secrets shared by Griffin and Sabine. If you have read this piece of art, then I ask that you rediscover the magic that links Griffin and Sabine. If you have not, then I invite you to join me as I give a walkthrough of the postcards and letters that have changed the lives of Griffin and Sabine.
These postcards and letters were found pinned to the ceiling
of the otherwise empty studio of Griffin Moss.
The quote mentioned at the beginning of this review came from Sabine’s first postcard to Griffin. At first glance, it looks like any other postcard. It gives you the impression that Griffin and Sabine know each other. However…
It is then revealed that Griffin does not know anyone named Sabine Strohem. While the first postcard draws the readers to the story, the second postcard drags them in and they become tangled in a mystery.
I did a little research about the South Pacific, particularly Sicmon Islands, where Sabine claims she is from. The South Pacific islands include Samoa, Micronesia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, and Solomon Islands among others. There is no record indicating that Sicmon Islands exist, therefore the setting is purely a work of fiction.
A commentary on the postcard: While ‘drinking like a fish’ is an English idiom which means consuming large amounts of alcoholic beverages (http://idioms.yourdictionary.com/drink-like-a-fish), I would like to interpret this postcard as Griffin’s thirst for information about Sabine. And, slowly, the answers come to him…
Having finally established who and where you are,
I feel compelled to reveal myself. (Sabine)
I can imagine Griffin being creeped out by Sabine’s revelation.
Could it be that he is being stalked?
If you have the same ‘paparazzi-stalker’ theory, then Griffin has just confirmed it for you in his second postcard sent to Sabine. However, it may also be inferred that Griffin is as drawn to Sabine as she is to him, especially when he writes in his post-script,
Your postcards are handmade—
Did you do them yourself?
A question requires an answer, and one question leads to another. And another. And another. Just like a “drinking fish,” Griffin and Sabine cannot stop writing to each other. In the same way, because each postcard offers a fresh information, readers cannot help but keep flipping and reading. After all, there is only so much one can read (or write) in a single postcard.
Things get more and more engaging as Sabine reveals yet another extraordinary thing:
I share your sight.
When you draw and paint, I see what you’re doing while you do it.
I know your work almost as well as I know my own. (Sabine)
This passage reminds me of a famous love sonnet by the great romanticist, Pablo Neruda. It is the same sonnet used in the movie, Patch Adams. Here is an excerpt:
so i love you because i know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as i fall asleep.
Even the part about the non-existence of “I” or “you” speaks of the cosmic force that links Griffin and Sabine. We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. Please, read on…
Any ordinary human being would have ignored Sabine’s letter by now. But I would like to remind you that this is an extraordinary tale between two extraordinary beings (see title of review, ha!).
Why doesn’t this alarm me as much as it should?
I suppose because I’ve always sensed that I was being watched,
but I’d put it down to everyday paranoia. (Griffin)
This whole prospect of being watched excites Griffin so much that he develops a craving, a yearning for a stranger who calls herself ‘Sabine.’
I want to hear everything.
Write in detail.
Tell me all about yourself.
I demand to know—please. (Griffin)
Ain’t our boy wonder slick? He turns the table around and insists that Sabine tell him her life story. (He throws her the same question that Sabine asked him in her previous postcard.) Griffin is like a curious little boy with lots of questions. Thankfully, Sabine is not taken aback by this random twist of events. She did, after all, admit to being “compelled to reveal herself.” Didn’t she?
Now that it comes to answering your questions
and telling you about myself, I feel oddly shy.
Not that this is a reason to hold back;
in fact I deem it a sign to press on. (Sabine)
Here are some facts about Sabine Strohem:
Father: Gust Strohem
Mother: Tahi Strohem
Father’s occupation: Curator at the National History Museum in Paris
Mother’s occupation: Midwife
Present Age: 28 years old
And here is the story about how she learned about Griffin Moss:
On the dawn of my fifteenth year I was lying in that easy state between sleep and wake when the image of a half-drawn flower came into my head. I was entranced. Gradually, it grew and changed, lines appeared and disappeared. I could see the picture but not the hand that created it. It was your drawing, Griffin—the first of hundreds of pictures I witnessed without knowing who made them.
So, how exactly did Sabine describe Griffin at the time?
You seemed destined to be an enigma forever.
Oh, such poetry in words! While Sabine’s narrative initially gave me goosebumps, it gave me so much joy knowing that the forces of the universe are at work here! For 13 years, Sabine has been plagued by the mystery of the artist. When the cosmos finally opened the door for them to meet, she did not hesitate to send Griffin her first postcard.
I see what you mean about getting shy…
I feel like climbing under the carpet. (Griffin)
Here are some facts about Griffin:
He was born in Dublin.
Moved to England when he turned one.
It must be nice to live in Griffin’s house, especially for a bibliophile like me.
Our house was a temple to The Book. We owned thousands, nay millions of books. They lined the walls, filled the cupboards, and turned the floor into a maze far more complex than Hampton Court’s. Books ruled our lives. They were our demi-gods.
When his parents died, Griffin moves in with his mother’s stepsister, Vereker, who teaches him the art of pottery. After being her apprentice for three years, Griffin leaves for Bristol Art College to become a fine artist.
After graduation, Griffin moves back to Totnes, but Vereker had moved to America. Two weeks later, Griffin receives a call informing him of Vereker’s death due to a brain tumor.
I stood in that cold little hall for ages, paralyzed with loneliness… If I had grieved, I’d have probably been okay. Instead, I sunk into a dark, drowning depression and stayed there for three months. Remembering it now still makes me numb.
Vereker leaves Griffin all her money, and he decides to use it to set up his own greeting card company. GRYPHON CARDS was to be dedicated to his idiosyncratic view of the universe.
In the last part of his letter, Griffin reveals that having Sabine write to him fills the void that Vereker created when she died. Perhaps this further explains why Griffin holds on to the idea of Sabine Strohem.
You don’t think we’re twins separated at birth, do you?
Or is that too simple? (Griffin)
A Short Commentary: Sabine’s vs Griffin’s Letter
|SABINE’S LETTER||GRIFFIN’S LETTER|
|Naturally ‘flowy’||Stiff and formal|
|Sepia, old-fashioned||White, modern|
|Life on the islands||Life in the city|
|No date – carefree, free spirit||Always dated – concerned with time|
When I heard of Vereker’s death and your misery,
I found it hard to breathe. And hearing that my existence
eased your pain made my heart race.
We have found one another… (Sabine)
Really, what else is there to say?
Griffin admits to doing some research about the strange phenomenon involving him and Sabine (i.e. twins separated at birth and telepathy). In the end, he prefers to think of their situation as unique. And I think he made the right choice. To put a label on something extraordinary devalues that ‘thing’ (whatever that ‘thing’ is), and the magic is no longer there. Also, things become more personal as feelings become involved:
I cheer myself by daydreaming of you and the south seas. (Griffin)
Through the early postcards, readers are made aware that Sabine does her own artworks. However, it is not until her second letter to Griffin that she reveals how she works as the Sicmon Philatelic Designer. Each year she designs twenty-four stamps that are printed in Singapore and shipped straight from there. Occasionally, you might find one of them being distributed at places like the Western Union near me.
In answer to Griffin’s sentiment, Sabine writes,
I have always craved a closeness that I could not find here. Now I feel it with you. My kinsmen are responsive to me—but there is no one to reach my heart, and you who are so far away, have been closer to me than any man on the islands.
Griffin talks more about himself in his second letter to Sabine. In it, he reveals that part of him that had always been there but he never dared acknowledge.
I’ve been fooling myself with a fake sense of purpose.
Like George, my back is turned to an infinite sky
filled with violent spiral of silver clouds. (Griffin)
Sabine plays an important role in Griffin’s life. Sabine becomes the stronghold that protects Griffin from the waves of depression. She also serves as Griffin’s distraction from seeing Vereker in crowds. Sabine is becoming more and more a part of Griffin’s life than she ever imagines. She is more real to him than anything or anyone around him. The abstract that was once Sabine becomes more tangible as Griffin gets drawn closer and closer to her.
There is only so much that Sabine could do to comfort Griffin in his solace. Time and distance are being unkind to them. She is worried that Griffin might do something bad to himself. She decides that, in order to counter his depression, she must find a way to return the affection. Because in Griffin’s own words,
We are lovers and I hadn’t realized it. (Griffin)
This ‘thing’ between Griffin and Sabine that started as a mystery becomes more complicated as tension starts to build up.
When you found me, I thought my loneliness had gone for good.
I was kidding myself. I desperately desire your company. (Griffin)
In Griffin’s last letter to Sabine, he says,
It is all very well for you to take this telepathic link between us matter-of-factly. You’ve had years to adjust to it. And no doubt your society teaches patience and acceptance. Mine teaches obsessive logical enquiry.
Indeed, as a logical thinker—and a lonely, depressed soul—physical companionship makes more sense to Griffin. Moreover, he becomes frustrated because he cannot “see” Sabine’s artwork the way she “sees” his. He would have stopped believing in their “telepathic link” (as Griffin defines it) if not for the magic that Sabine brings for his ailing soul. Sabine becomes the “wonder pill” of our love junkie who goes by the name of Griffin.
How can I miss you this badly when we’ve never met? (Griffin)
(And yes, he is going through withdrawal. Ha!)
If you don’t see my pictures there’s a good reason.
Sometimes willpower alone cannot make things happen. (Sabine)
This is where the forces of the universe are given greater attention. Remember how, in her first letter, Sabine described about the dream she had? That dream in which Griffin was drawing the flower? As opposed to willpower, dreams and visions come to us naturally. We do not force ourselves to dream. We just do.
This is what Sabine wants Griffin to understand. Sure, there will always be that question about how and why they are linked. But why even try to rationalize? Why not simply take pleasure in what they have?
Unfortunately, words mean nothing to Griffin. He sinks deeper and deeper into his obsession. He is caught in the middle of his emotions, allowing them to consume him and take control of his life. His only chance—a photograph of Sabine.
If you wish to see me,
why not come here? (Sabine)
I remember when people would tell a girl that if a guy truly loved her, then he would follow her wherever she goes. Similarly, Sabine is telling Griffin that if it is indeed her company that he seeks, then he should travel to Sicmon Islands and be with her. Again, Griffin’s attempts to convince her to physically reveal herself to him is not that simple, especially if he is dealing with a free spirit like Sabine.
What is there to stop you—
you’re clearly unhappy where you are.
As for the self-portrait that Sabine sent Griffin, Sabine writes,
A photograph would not be possible. I offer myself in paint instead.
It’s self-flattering, but that’s our prerogative as artists—
to record ourselves the way we wish. (Sabine)
I like how, even in self-portrait, Sabine identifies herself as one with the universe. Sabine’s self-portrait, such a magical piece of art, reminds me so much of the Forest Spirit in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The use of purple signifies mystery and spirituality, and represents the mystic. It is a combination of strong warm and strong cool colors, thereby having a balanced quality. (You can read more about the color purple at http://desktoppub.about.com/cs/colorselection/p/purple.htm)
Things have become so difficult. I mustn’t write again.
This whole affair has gotten too intense. (Griffin)
Upon Sabine’s refusal to give him a photograph of herself, Griffin Moss has completely lost it. Like the title of his postcard, Pierrot’s Last Stand, it was Griffin’s last postcard. He shuns Sabine from his world, denying her existence. He refuses to believe in her, claiming that she is merely a figment of his imagination and, sadly, a product of his loneliness and depression.
Although unperturbed by Griffin’s denial of her, Sabine sets it upon herself to leave Sicmon Islands and search for him. She explains that just because he is afraid does not mean that he has to dismiss her as a phantom.
Griffin is missing. Where is he? Will Sabine ever find him? Or is this truly a descent to madness? These are questions waiting to be answered. And while author-illustrator Nick Bantock gives the impression that it is the end, readers are just beginning to uncover the facts surrounding the inexplicable link between these two strangers…
Stories about kindred spirits are always fascinating. Although not an expert on this, I am a believer of this concept. Simply defined, a kindred spirit is someone who feels and thinks the same way that you do. (Others may have a more in-depth definition of the words.)
A kindred spirit does not have to be of the opposite sex or a lover. In fact, anybody can be your kindred spirit. As for who s/he might be (which can also be a ‘they’), I cannot answer this for you. Only you can.
I hope you enjoyed skimming through each postcard and letter as much as I had fun putting them together. Indeed, you are lucky and privileged to have seen the correspondence between Griffin and Sabine in its entirety. Have a stress-free day! =)
About the Author-Illustrator
Nick Bantock is an artist, illustrator, writer and creator of pop-up books. He is known for his Griffin and Sabine trilogy and for making collage popular. He began his career as a freelance artist, producing 300 book covers for 16 years. In 1993, he won the Bill Duthie Bookseller’s Choice Award for Griffin and Sabine.
Book photos are taken by me
Nick Bantock’s photo is taken from http://www.authorsontourlive.com/wp-images/Bantock.jpg
Nick Bantock’s biography is extracted from the back flap jacket of Griffin and Sabine and from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Bantock
The Forest Spirit’s photo is taken from http://images1.fanpop.com/images/photos/1500000/The-Spirit-of-the-forest-headless-princess-mononoke-1521778-460-340.jpg
For more information on Griffin and Sabine, visit http://www.nickbantock.com/Gryphon/Griffin_and_Sabine.html and http://www.nickbantock.com/