Whilst in Ambleside, back in November, I discovered that the second of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides had just been reissued in its Third Edition, as revised by Clive Hutchby. I bought it after a chat with the bookshop owner, in which I expounded on the views I’d formed about the first such book. The owner confirmed that that was how Hutchby came over in person.
I decided to postpone reading The Far Eastern Fells until Xmas, but the day has been and gone, I’ve read through the book, and it seemed appropriate to give a Second Opinion about how Hutchby is handling his set task. Especially as The Central Fells is on its way as early as the first week in March 2016.
Second Opinions are usually a reassessment, a re-ordering of perceptions. This Second Opinion is not. It is exactly the same as my First Opinion, only worse.
I am taking on trust the accuracy of Hutchby’s amendments, which is the sole positive aspect of this book. It is everything else about this Revision that I loathe.
I previously mentioned the way that Hutchby’s version is being presented not as the Third Edition, but as the Walkers Edition. The more I see that, the angrier I get about it. It’s a shitty claim, combining within it the suggestion that it’s taken until now, and Clive Hutchby, to get it properly right, and openly demeaning Wainwright himself by the blatant implication that his original version was somehow not for Walkers.
It’s a touch of arrogance that allows Hutchby to inflate himself at the expense of someone far more talented than himself, and far far more original. It’s a far cry from Chris Jesty’s respectful sublimation of himself into the refreshing of the work of someone he never once pretended to even equal.
I admit to never having been entirely happy with the stylistic changes made for Jesty’s Second Edition, which moved the series a few steps away from Wainwright’s classic simplicity. The use of red lines and dots to indicate paths and routes I always regarded dubiously.
Hutchby’s Edition takes this several steps further, making the red lines deeper, darker and more prominent. This has the unwelcome effect of dominating the page: the eye is drawn to the red, especially on pages where Hutchby has to accommodate a profusion of alternative paths in small areas, and the dominating colour obscures the rest of the page.
Instead of a well-balanced, clear map or image in which all the elements are of equal importance, the red lines impose a cage effect upon the page: everything else is behind bars that cross before the eyes.
It only serves to exacerbate the effect of so many fussy, overstuffed pages. Wainwright, though completely untrained, had an immense natural skill at composition. His primary concern was, at all times, clarity, and he kept his pages simple and clear. Hutchby, in contrast, is eager to cram more, ever more in to every page.
To some extent, that’s inevitable. The Far Eastern Fells comes over sixty years after its original, and amongst the many changes it has to encompass is the appearance of multitudes of paths where once Wainwright only indicated a trackless route. Many pages are busier because the ground Hutchby has to present is busier, and he cannot be blamed for a sometimes cramped response.
But Hutchby’s instincts are to cram in even more information, to overload pages that are already in danger of losing any focus. Worse, to achieve his ends he will play about with entire chapters, shifting images and paragraphs from one page to the next, shrinking the space for the elements to breathe and cramping everything up.
In at least one instance, to achieve this Hutchby has had the main image on the first page of a ‘chapter’ shrunk by half an inch in depth, in order to stuff other things in.
The more I look at The Far Eastern Fells, the more despairing I get. It appears that the obvious solution to the necessity to add material, namely, adding extra pages, has either been overlooked, or else rejected, be it in the interests of cost, or thickness or other reason. But the effect is clunky and unlovely.
I cannot enjoy these editions. What was so great about the original Wainwright Guides was that as well as being a clear, concise and utterly practical guide to the Lake District fells, they were simultaneously a work of art. They were only ever intended to be the first of these. The second aspect arose naturally, out of the hand and eye of Alfred Wainwright.
Chris Jesty revised the Guides out of love and respect, intent on every page in reflecting Wainwright and not supplanting him. Clive Hutchby appears to be out to do his own version, replacing Wainwright wherever there’s the merest crack into which he can insert something clearly superior. And Frances Lincoln Publishers, in the absence of their founder, are collaborating in the junking of something beyond the collective ability of all of them to achieve.