The Strikingly Thin Line Between Horror And Erotica As Demonstrated by Arthur Rackham’s Goblin Market

When I recieved my copy of the Dover Thrift Edition of Goblin Market and Other Poems, the art on the cover gave me a very good expectation of what to expect in the poem, with one notable exception. The drawing is by Arthur Rackham, showing the stanza where the goblins of the market try to force Lizzie to eat, and is provided here:One of Arthur Rackham's drawings of Goblin Market, specifically of the goblins trying to feed lizzieThe image is a concentration of the poem, with Lizzie’s blond hair, pale skin, and white dress emphasizing her Victorian purity to an almost comical degree, and the surrounding goblins draw in a way that emphasizes their animalistic nature and status as antisemitic caricatures. This, and the attention to detail such as two of the prominent goblins being the cat-headed and parrot-headed goblins described often in the poem, make the drawing a faithful adaptation of the the text. However, what was incredibly strange to me was how Lizzie is drawn in a pose that you might see in a romance novel cover.

There is some innuendo present in the book regarding the goblins, be it how they ‘squeezed and caressed [Lizzie]’ when they first saw her (pg. 10), or Laura eating the fruits being described as ‘she sucked and sucked and sucked’ (Pg. 4). However, these sexual references are relatively sparse in the text, and the violent language used in the stanza this is depicting is more in line with a rape scene if anything. But here, Lizzie’s white dress leaves a large amount of skin uncovered and the shoulder strap has been pulled down, and the look on Lizzie’s face is far more one of desire than of ‘a rock of blue-veined stone’ that the poem suggests (page 12). In this drawing, Arthur Rackham takes the sexual innuendo throughout the poem and heightens it, to an uncomfortable degree.

While this has likely some connection to the phenomenon Famine noted and explored in Dracula: A Dark “Romance” Gone Wrong, what this highlights to me is that there is an implicit fascination in stories of great disgust and horror such as Goblin Market (or, to broaden the temporal scope of the class, any of the works of HP Lovecraft). This fascination can easily be switched into a fetishization that, as the explicit grotesqueness of the goblins in this image despite their status and the stand-in for the romantic partner, can fully coexist with the same disgust that spawned it.

Leave a Reply