Off the Shelf: The Emperor’s New Clothes

Long ago before MP3 downloads and CDs, there were cassette tapes. They were plastic cases that enclosed a reel of tape connected between two spools. This (very used) copy of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” came with an actual tape. Brought me right back to my childhood. Better than a time machine.


I haven’t actually listened to the tape yet. While I don’t have an actual cassette player — like a boom box or a Walkman — I do have a tape deck in my car, a beloved, bare-bones Camry that will celebrate its 10th birthday later this year.

Sir John Gielgud, the celebrated British Shakespearean, reads the story on the tape. When I looked up Gielgud on Wikipedia, I was surprised to learn that the man was especially revered for his voice.

He was known for his beautiful speaking of verse and particularly for his warm and expressive voice, which his colleague Sir Alec Guinness likened to “a silver trumpet muffled in silk”. Referring to the mellifluousness of his speech, John Steinbeck described Gielgud as “a great musician” while Laurence Olivier, his rival as the greatest Shakespearean actor of their generation, said he possessed a voice that “wooed the world.

I’m not gonna lie. These endorsements make me actually want to listen to the tape so I can discover what the magic is all about.

The illustrations in this version are by Robert Van Nutt, and they remind me of quasi-renaissance Italian stuff.


The perspective is a little shortened, and the characters wear lush costumes and chiaroscuro is all over the place.


Here are the two dastardly villains plotting away.


While most of these illustrations are pretty traditional, there are a few that made me look twice. For example, this one of the emperor’s face when he realizes that he can’t see the special cloth.


Priceless. There are quite a few emperor-close-ups. For example, this one of him in his new outfit. Far from appearing comfortable in his fancy threads, he’s stiff as a board. Wonder why…


The emperor has quite the chiseled torso for a guy who also has a double chin. Hmm…

One thing that I find strange is that the “naked parade” scene isn’t given a full-page illustration. In fact, the big event is relegated to a small insert.


The adjacent full-page image is of the courtiers who appear shocked and scandalized.


The honest boy also isn’t really given much play in terms of illustration. The only glimpse we get of him is also in an insert.


And we’re left with the emperor, who looks like he’s finally caught on. Look at how the two guys in his entourage are pretending to hold up his train with dainty hands.


They all look like they’ve smelled something unpleasant.


Does your most embarrassing moment involve being naked?


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