Who in the world created this cover?

Here’s a fun post at tor.com, and thanks to commenter Robert for pointing me to it: Do You Know Who Illustrated This Classic Wrinkle in Time Cover?

This post is by Molly Templeton, and here is the cover she means:

If you are of a certain age, you remember it well: The creepy, haunting, downright iconic—and totally weird—cover of the 1976 Dell edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. But while many of us remember being scared by (and/or fascinated with) this image, there’s an unexpected mystery behind it: No one seems to know who the artist is.

I remember this cover! Oddly, I remember only the narrow-winged armless centaur. I don’t recall the creepy face at all. Perhaps that’s not odd, since I was always going to notice mythological creatures far more than creepy mask-like faces. Regardless, apparently the artist is still a mystery.

Regardless, Templeton is right. This cover is totally weird.

Robert then started me, no doubt on purpose, down the rabbit-hole question of What Is The Weirdest Cover Ever. Here’s his submission in this wild and wacky category:

Words fail me. I presume this is one of the apparently common instances when the publisher slapped a completely random cover on a book without the least regard for the tone, style, subgenre, or actually even the genre of the book in question. Apparently publishers sometimes literally used to have a file of unused covers and just pick one out at random for whatever book was up for publication next.

If you’re curious, here’s a post that shows various other covers for The Princess Bride. I think my copy is the one with the girl on the horse. That one is certainly far, far preferable to the above peculiar mess.

If you poke around looking for the worst fantasy book covers of all time, you will see plenty of contenders that give this terrible Princess Bride cover a run for its money. Here is my very favorite:

I am particularly enjoying the above because of the unexpected theme of “terrible fantasy covers featuring centaurs with strange arms.” I wouldn’t have thought there could be more than one cover in this exceedingly specific subgenre of bad covers, but here we are.

The above covers are so bad that they even make the many and terrible covers for the Vorkosigan series look pretty good. Or at least somewhat less terrible.

Anyway, here is a good cover featuring centaurs:

There you go, centaurs with normal arms.

This is of course one of the books in Nick O’Donohoe’s Crossroads trilogy, The Magic and the Healing, Under the Healing Sign, and The Healing of Crossroads. They are not linked into one series page … and, I am not finding ebook versions. Who published these? Ah, Ace. Well, Ace, what the heck is wrong with you? How about you bring out ebook editions? I guess Ace let these go out of print and O’Donohoe hasn’t got the rights back, or isn’t interested in bringing out ebook editions. That’s too bad, because the first book is excellent and the other two pretty good. (I’m downgrading them because of personal irritation with one specific detail that might not bother anyone else.)

Anyway, the protagonist is a vet student — in later books, a veterinarian, no longer a student — with an interesting and unique practice. Also serious problems, as Crossroads is at hazard for various reasons. My own vet gave this series two thumbs up for the medical details. AND, I know I have mentioned this before, but I’m going to mention it again: the protagonist here was the first time I specifically noticed an author making a character smart and perceptive without every saying, or having anyone else say, “Oh, look, she’s so smart and perceptive.”

I don’t mean O’Donohoe bludgeoned the reader over the head with BJ’s brilliance and perception and that’s why I noticed this part of her character. I don’t want to imply that. He did a great job and I just happened to sit up straight and say, “Look how perceptive she is! And the author never even says so! It’s just part of who she is! Wow, that is so neat!” It was something I was ready to notice as a reader, I guess, so it really struck me.

Writing smart characters without having to tell the reader that the character is smart is something every novelist needs to learn how to do. I mean, if any of your characters are ever going to be smart and perceptive.

Okay! Any other centaurs you particularly like in fantasy? Normal arms or otherwise, but I bet the above are the two weirdest centaurs pictured in all of fantasy.

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16 thoughts on “Who in the world created this cover?”

  1. You’ve recommended the Magic and the Healing once too often. I went ahead and bought a used copy on Amazon. I absolutely remember that cover of a A Wrinkle in Time. My mom used to review children’s books for publishers weekly, and she would get copies before publication. One book I remember but can’t find, since I can’t remember the title of it didn’t involve a centaur, but was about a girl who was diagnosed with diabetes but who helped deal with it by showing a Keeshond. Any idea what that book was?

  2. Those are some wild covers for sure. I remember that I read A Swiftly Tilting Planet well before A Wrinkle in Time – I think I was only 7 or 8. We had an old paperback, probably the Dell 1981 version, with a winged centaur on the cover leaping up from a roiling mass of horror, with an alarmed Charles Wallace on its back. I loved that book, and more specifically the cover, which I copied (badly) as it began to disintegrate from repeated re-readings. I memorized Charles Wallace’s poem, probably the first poem I memorized, and was generally obsessed with the book in the way only smallish children can be, for nigh on a year.

    It was probably 8-10 years later when I finally read the rest of the series, probably because my mother, surprisingly, didn’t have them in our rather extensive book collection. It was at that point that I realized I had missed rather a lot as a kid, with no context from the earlier books.

    Other centaurs . . . I like C.S. Lewis’s take on centaurs, especially in Prince Caspian, and Diana Wynne Jones’s in Deep Magic.

  3. Oh, wait, I was thinking of A Sudden Wild Magic, which I know isn’t everyone’s favorite, but also has a centaur, I think? It’s been a while. Although Goodreads says I’ve read Deep Secret too.

  4. Speaking of centaur and centaur like beings, I’ve having trouble figuring out the size of the turun from “No Foreign Sky”. I loved, loved, loved “No Foreign Sky”, but I’m still puzzled by parts, including turun size. I always thought the horse part of the body of a centaur was pony size so that the overall height would be 5′ – 6′. See cover of “Under the Healing Sign” above. But at 1000 lbs, the nturun are Clydesdale size? and the uturun at 3000 lbs are the size of a small elephant?

    I keep picturing the bridge of the Enterprise and thinking how awfully crowded it would be with 5 – 8 Clydesdales on it. I know, I know, the bridge of the Nkaastu is much bigger and prettier! But I can’t help it, I watched the original Star Trek so much growing up, it is etched in my brain!

  5. I actually have those Nick ODonohoe books! I read them years ago and enjoyed them, but they got too … dark? Ruthlessly dark? Something like that, but I enjoyed them and read them more than once. (It was another series of his that I couldn’t stomach at all, something about humans being turned into furnaces as punishment? Just, ugh.)

  6. Carol, turun society is based fairly closely, but not exactly a copy of, elephant society. Yes, turun are much bigger than standard centaurs; they are indeed Clydesdale to elephant sized. Just try to expand the bridge in your mind!

  7. Deb, you’re right, that’s another thing that makes me drop the second and third books down a bit in the ratings. Some pretty grim stuff happens there.

  8. I thought I knew more stories with centaurs, but I find when I look back that I’m remembering unicorns.

    The MCA Hogarth Peltedverse includes two species of centauroid beings, but in both the lower body is cat-like and not equine, with retractable claws. The Glaseah are 5+ feet tall, compact, have a skunk-like color pattern, are calm and pretty much asexual, and tend to be scientists or teachers. The Ciracaana are much taller – 8 to 9 feet – rangy, with wildly variable coat patterns; most remain on their home planet but some choose to move out to the wider universe, where they are admired for their speed and grace and appreciated for their ability to collaborate in teams.

  9. You know, I went looking for the cover art because someone was asking for a series just like Nick O’Donohoe’s Crossroads series, and Google’s top results were…. this post and then me posting all the covers side-by-side back in 2020. I guess us gryphon authors stick together =] Nick O’Donohoe’s vets-treating-gryphons series was a favorite of mine as a little girl. Like you, I was sad to see they never did an ebook (or audiobook, or hardcover) and the paperback is out of print.

  10. I got an ecopy from somewhere. Don’t remember where I got it – except that it was apparently in 2019, that being the date stamp Calibre has for it – but seems it did exist. publisher was Firebird, FWIW. May have been a pirate edition, although I try not to go to such sites.

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