JRR Tolkien's own illustrations appear in Lord of the Rings for the first time

The author’s artwork is published alongside his text in new edition of the classic fantasy novel

A series of paintings and sketches created by JRR Tolkien while he was writing The Lord of the Rings are to be included in the epic fantasy novel for the first time since its publication in 1954.

Tolkien was always modest about his abilities as an artist: although a handful of his illustrations were featured in The Hobbit, the author described himself as “rather crushed” by comments from one critic that the images “show no reflection of his literary talent and imagination”, adding: “all the more so because I entirely agree with him” (CS Lewis reviewed the pictures and maps as “admirable”). In the middle of writing The Lord of the Rings, in 1939, he told his publisher that the work was “laborious”, and that “I should have no time or energy for illustration. I never could draw, and the half-baked intimations of it seem wholly to have left me. A map (very necessary) would be all I could do.”

Orthanc by JRR Tolkien.
Orthanc by JRR Tolkien. Photograph: terencecaven/Tolkien Estate/Harper Collins

But he went on to create a range of drawings, illustrations, maps and sketches as he told the story of Frodo and Sam’s quest, many as pictorial aids as he wrote his expansive story, and some for his own pleasure. While the works have been collected in books such as Christopher Tolkien’s Pictures by JRR Tolkien, and Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull’s JRR Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, and were shown in exhibitions in 2018, the Tolkien estate has now granted HarperCollins rights to publish a new edition of The Lord of the Rings, in which the images accompany the text they were created to illustrate for the first time.

“Like many young readers, I was enthralled by his charming and evocative illustrations that accompanied The Hobbit. These paintings, particularly the now- iconic image that appears on its cover, have become as beloved as the story they accompany,” said HarperCollins deputy publishing director Chris Smith. “Yet the author himself was characteristically modest, dismissive of the obvious and rare artistic talent he possessed despite having had no formal training. This modesty meant that relatively little else of his artwork was known of or seen during his lifetime, and generally only in scholarly books afterwards.”

Most of Tolkien’s paintings, added Smith, “seemed to be private pursuits, produced for himself or his children”. Just two of Tolkien’s illustrations were included in the original edition of The Lord of the Rings – the Doors of Durin and the Inscription on Balin’s Tomb. The new edition, featuring 30 of Tolkien’s illustrations, maps and sketches, is out in October.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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