Thoreau at Walden
by John Porcellino
Do the children in your life respond to animals and nature? Do they instinctively want to save an injured bird or go out of their way to recycle? Then they will find a kinship with Henry David Thoreau and his ideas, boiled down to their essence in this graphic novel interpretation of his philosophy and way of life. Now “going green” and “sustainability” are part of the national discourse, but we can see from Thoreau’s journal entries about living on Walden Pond from March 1845 to September 1847 (eventually published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods) that he was already mindful of these concepts and putting them into practice. He built a 10' x 15' house with a bed, table, desk, three chairs, a fireplace for cooking and keeping warm, and a lantern by which he read and wrote. Porcellino selects quotes not only from Thoreau’s “experiment in living,” but also from his other essays. Thoreau took complex ideas and framed them in simple phrases that everyone could understand. Porcellino, like Thoreau, uses some deceptively simple strokes of the pen to convey some very complex ideas. Over his pen-and-inks, Porcellino uses a wash in the same color as the “light and sandy soil” in which Thoreau planted his five-and-a-half acres of vegetables. But what Porcellino also accomplishes with this inspired graphic-novel treatment, is to chronicle the silences on Walden Pond—those awe-inspiring moments that can only occur when one communes with nature utterly alone. One can almost hear the quiet.
The opening to winter features two half-page panels and a full-page panel, opposite, depicting a snowfall on the pond, in the woods, and the field surrounding Thoreau’s cabin. Porcellino thus emulates the silent wonder of the first snow. The spring finds Thoreau floating in a boat in the middle of Walden Pond; the panels vary in size to demonstrate the body of water’s scope and glory: “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful feature. . . It is Earth’s eye / looking into which the beholder measures the depths of his own nature.” By giving Walden Pond this weight and moment, Porcellino allows us to take in the double-meaning—that while we behold it, all of nature seems to be in our possession, but at the same time, while in contemplation of nature, we also look deep within ourselves.