Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tolkien's Art

Today's post by Brad of Crushing Skulls on the power (or lack thereof) of cover art reminded me of one of my own johnny-come-lately discoveries: that my favorite Middle Earth art, the most evocative and mood-capturing, was the art drawn by the author himself.

I grew up with the striking 1973 edition Ballantine covers (that seem to be getting the most thumbs up on Brad's post so far). Those tattered paperbacks miraculously have survived each zig and zag of my life in the last three decades.

Before running this blog, truth be told, I paid little attention to the art credits of most of my books, even the treasured ones like those. So when I did pull out the editions a few months ago on a slow day to check the credit I have to admit it was a complete surprise. 

Tracking down a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of his paintings, sketches, maps, fake manuscript fragments, runic calligraphy etc. were quite all quite good and fascinating.

Tolkien in our circles gets a little less of his due--presumably as a healthy corrective to the under-emphasis on the game's pulp fantasy inspirations--but damn if I am not consistently impressed by the breadth and scope of his talent as a well-rounded world-builder, even after all these years.

A nice collection of his illustrations can be found here.


  1. The stylised black ink dragon on the title page of the 1987 edition of The Hobbit is incredibly charming.

  2. I don't think I've seen anyone who is insane enough to claim that Tolkien wasn't a genius. Most of what I've seen denies his influence on Gary Gygax or simply seeks to go with other influences because of the reasons you state above.

    I believe I've read somewhere that Dave Arneson did like Tolkien and was strongly influenced by him. Admittedly that's anecdotal, but I've always wondered why we focus so strongly on Gary.

    And of course Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands of High Fantasy started in Middle Earth, which is still evident in the name.

  3. The book Roverandom has several Tolkien illustrations; it's also an entertaining children's story.

  4. @Evan: I think the focus is on Gary due to the TSR publicity machine, as well as the personalities of both; Dave was a pretty retiring guy, while Gary was a much more extroverted guy. Most RPG fans don't seem to know much about Ye Olden Dayes, as I think most of them have come into the genre in the last decade or so.

    yours, Chirine

  5. I always imagine Tolkein's art as being drawn by Bilbo whilst illustrating The Red Book. Probably because, after reading the stories, it really does look like something an author would draw/paint for his own book. It isn't literal in interpretation, but rather the romantic ideal of an adventure. The movie covers are the antithesis of this and I serious despise them.

  6. On Gygax and Arneson: history as the cliche goes is written by the victors. Unfortunately they both learned this the hard way at different points in their careers.

    These days I personally prefer the pulp classics like Leiber and CAS more than Tolkien, but I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that it was the former that piqued my love of the genre in the first place.

    Good points. His own illustrations have a heavy emphasis on the dreamy and pastoral, it just feels right to me from what I gathered out of the books.

    The new covers are horrible agreed, especially the Two Towers one emphasizing the bleach blonde dufus Orlando Bloom.

  7. CAS and Leiber are my two favorite genre authors, so it's good to see you have good taste ;)