Beauty of book covers – using The Colour of Magic as example

Don’t judge the book by its cover. That’s what many people say, but can you judge the cover itself? To me, the cover is inseparable part of the book. The cover is where you get the first impression of the book, and it is art by itself.

The cover was very important for me because I often read classics. You see different copies of the same novel , and the only thing different between them is the cover(or introductory essays. I used to read them for fun). In such cases, I usually pick up the one with more aesthetic cover. If I’m going to buy a book, I want the good looking one. But what is the good book cover anyway?

My personal criteria is that the book cover should reflect the content of the book, without spoiling everything. One Korean translation of “Tragedy of Y” by Ellery Queen had a cover that obviously told everyone who the killer was. In such cases, it is a horrible book cover no matter how beautiful the cover is.

(image retrieved from   )

Or book cover should reflect the themes or certain impression the author conveys in his or her writing. Look at the cover for Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney – the cover simply shows the chain mailed figure in black background but 1. It catches your eyes, 2. It tells you that this book is about medieval subject, so I consider it to be an effective book cover since it is both aesthetic and relevant. It also gives you strange feeling too; the chain mail left in the dark gives me sense of relic abandoned in the shadow of time, and this somehow amplifies my emotion. So the good book cover can enhance your enjoyment.

Sometimes I look at the book covers and imagine about the books’ contents. Often the cover only depicts a scene from the story(common in many sf and fantasy books) or extremely distilled image of the book. I can use different versions of Discworld covers to provide the examples.




(image retrieved from Discworld Wikia  )

The old Discworld covers drawn by Josh Kirby depict the scenes from the novel. For example, the cover of “The Colour of Magic” shows the scene in the bar, which is an episode from the early part of the book. You can see the Luggage intruding and surprising the characters in the bar. Kirby’s art style captures the vitality and absurdity of Discworld so well that book cover becomes the part of experience. Kirby’s covers include so many details, and finding out about details becomes an additional fun.

Colour of magic black


(image retrieved from Discworld Emporium   )

Some other book covers have more abstract aesthetic to them. Once again, I bring Discworld as an example- there are covers that feature important objects in story in dark background, and it gives different beauty to the book. Unlike Kirby’s unrestrained vitality, these “dark covers” are like shadows the story leaves after it is over. Take a look at the cover for the Colour of Magic. It shows you the pile of gold coins on a luggage. Without knowledge about the story, it may not make much sense. But after you read the whole story, you can look at the cover and know that those gold coins began the misadventures of Rincewind and Two Flower, then the covers become like a snapshot of your reading.  Since this is Discworld, you can say that you are remembering the future reading to come when you read into this cover.  This is complete opposite effect from Kirby’s art, yet both versions capture the essence of the story.  The difference is that Kirby’s art captures the moment/action of the story while the black cover exhibits the shadow of the story.

The book cover presents first impression to the readers.  But they can be more than just a cover; it can be a capture of significant moment in the book, or the shade of the reading to come.  Either way, beautiful book covers sure do make reading more interesting.


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