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The Many Illustrations of JRR Tolkien's Works

When he first published The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien could not have predicted that his tales would not only revolutionize the genres of sci-fi and fantasy, but also transform the world of literature. Indeed, his works have transfixed generations and inspired a series of visually stunning motion pictures.

Tolkien himself, however, actually shied away from visual representations of his stories. He noted that “However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation and true literature is that . . . literature works from mind to mind and is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal and more poignantly particular."

But then he received some illustrations from a woman named Mary Fairburn. A recent TLS blog post details how Fairburn's work so thoroughly impressed Tolkien that he reconsidered his stance on illustrations and went so far as to contact his publisher about including Fairburn's drawings in an upcoming edition. Her illustrations resonated with Tolkien because they were closely based on the text and reminded Tolkien of the way he'd have illustrated the book himself. Unfortunately Fairburn's drawings were never used.

Lord of the Rings illustration by Mary Fairburn

One of Fairburn's illustrations

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Since then, some of the most desirable editions of Tolkien's works have included exceptional illustrations. For example, the relatively scarce deluxe three-volume set of The Lord of the Rings (1963)  includes stunning vistas by artist Pauline Baynes. Tolkien liked the scenes so much, he purchased the originals. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark sent Tolkien copies of her illustrations, which were subsequently used in the Danish edition and in the Folio Society's English editions after 1977.

Illustration by Danish Queen Margrethe

 A woodcut by Queen Margrethe

Under the auspices of Tolkien's publishers, many more of the author's works can be found as lovely illustrated editions. For Tolkien's centennial birthday, a new edition with 50 full-color illustrations by Alan Lee was published. Ted Nasmath illustrated Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, one of many books inspired by the fantastic complexity and detail of Tolkien's worlds.

Avid collectors of Tolkien often find that they soon move beyond collecting only works by the author himself, expanding their focus to include books written by authors like Foster or Tolkien calendars. The definitive guide for Tolkien editions is undoubtedly the Hammond bibliography. This essential guide offers thorough descriptions of significant editions of Tolkien's works, giving enthusiasts an invaluable tool should they move beyond casual collecting or English editions.
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Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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