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.
One of Fairburn's illustrations
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.