In Memoriam: Jahn Holljen Thon

RIN members familiar with Jahn Holljen Thon and his works will be saddened by the news of his passing. The following obituary was written by David Skilton.

Jahn Holljen Thon

We are sad to announce the recent death of Jahn Holljen Thon, who held a chair at Agder University in Kristiansand, Norway, and was Norway’s most innovative researcher in the field of illustrated literature. He was earlier the main cultural critic for left-wing newspaper, and it may be the fact that he did not fit neatly into the inherited academic disciplines that enabled him to pay attention to previously undervalued cultural phenomena such as Scandinavian verbal-visual works. He came to Illustration Studies via an interest in Norwegian works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and, like many of us, found that general pronouncements on how illustration functions were simply not adequate in relation to his challenging material. He made contact with the group at Cardiff University responsible for the Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration, when it was running a series of workshops in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum under the title of LICAU, Literary Illustration: Conservation, Access, Use. He generously provided funding for the workshops to continue at Lampeter and Kristiansand for a few more years. Meanwhile he encouraged colleagues to research illustration in many fields, from Saami poetry from the far North of Norway, to verbal-visual poetry combining English and Scandinavian “text”. His weightiest contribution to Illustration Studies is a book entitled Talende Linje or “Speaking Lines”, in which he examines three early Norwegian printed books – early, that is, in terms of the development of Norwegian publishing – and he attempts to steer scholars towards what he elsewhere calls “a third way”, overriding modes of analysis which make the visual secondary to the verbal or vice versa. He also wrote persuasively on two of Norway’s greatest writers, Ludvig Holberg and Henrik Wergeland, and was for many years the prime mover in the Wergeland Society. His book Wergeland for Framtiden (“Wergeland for the Future”) was published in 2018. He delivered his last manuscript to his publisher only days before his death. We should remember him for his contribution in the previously neglected field of Norwegian Illustration Studies.

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