Picture a beautiful canyon-shaped space surrounded by trees and rock formations left behind by glaciers. The sound of rushing water comes from a nearby waterfall. Suddenly, something peeks out from behind a tree. Wait, was that a ... fairy?
That’s the setting of a story published just more than 100 years ago in a Wisconsin high school literary magazine and again in a recently published book, "The Devil's Punch Bowl." It’s accompanied by steampunk-inspired illustrations by a University of Wisconsin-Stout professor.
The story initially made its debut in 1913 in the Menomonie High School literary magazine, The Menomite, and was written by then Menomonie High School student, Isabelle Waterman. Waterman’s fairy tale is a story of how the Devil’s Punch Bowl — a 2.9 acre nature preserve near Menominee — originated, according to reporting by the Leader-Telegram. Waterman died in 1978 at the age of 80 in Madison.
The story was discovered by a Dunn County Historical Society staff member, said Erik Evensen, an assistant professor of design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He learned about the story when a friend from the historical society talked about how illustrating the story could be a good project for students. Evensen, who doesn't teach a class that would lend itself to such a project, said the more he talked about the illustrations, the more intrigued he became and eventually volunteered to illustrate it himself.
"I'm a huge fan of mythology and folklore," said Evensen, who has published graphic novels including "Gods of Asgard." "Basically, anytime you get evil fairies or giants or princess involved, I'm usually on board."
The story centers around a princess who is spirited away by a fairy. The only way she can be saved from her "spiritual plight" is by having a magic potion from a giant's punch bowl splashed in her face, Evensen said.
"As far as we can tell, it’s a complete literary invention, but it definitely plays on tropes of fairy tales, myths of those era," he said.
As for the setting — the Devil's Punch Bowl — is a beautiful place, said Erika Svanoe, who is a band director and music faculty member at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her musical compositions influenced Evensen’s illustrations.
Devil's Punch Bowl, carved out by post-glacial flooding, is home to a waterfall and a landscape lush with plants. During the winter, frozen water makes it look like curtains of ice shield the rock. Svanoe agreed that it's a setting that might inspire a fairy tale.
"You can definitely imagine fairies or gnomes peeking out of various places when you’re visiting," Svanoe said.
While deciding how to illustrate the book, Evensen looked at old illustrations by people like Arthur Rackham and others from what's considered to be the Golden Age of Illustration. He also said he was lamenting that he couldn't quite find a hook for it.
"... I didn't know how to update it for the modern era, I guess," Evensen said.
There was a secondary, unrelated thought, too.
Svanoe, who Evensen is married to, had recently composed a four-movement piece, "Steampunk Suite" and he was a "little bit jealous" that she got to work with something about steampunk. Steampunk, according to a Evensen in a UW-Stout news release, bridges history and fantasy and often involves recognition of history in a fantastical way, Evensen said.
The genre, closely tied to science fiction or fantasy, typically includes elements of technology and design inspired by industrial machinery.
Svanoe's work, takes twists from important people who were alive during the Victorian era and puts them in a fictional type of setting, she said.
"It ... gives them kind of an alternate fictional history and what that might sound like when it's interpreted musically," she said.
Then, the friend from the Dunn County Historical Society suggested that Evensen make the story "steampunk."
"And I said, "That's It," he exclaimed. "Listening to Erika's pieces over and over again, which I had done at that point, really kind of fueled the fire in terms of putting that stylistic spin on it."
The book has received a "pretty positive" local response, Evensen said. "The Devil's Punch Bowl" is for sale at the Rassbach Heritage Museum.