io9: The Middle Earth Illustrators J.R.R. Tolkien Loved – and the Ones He Abhorred

The Hobbit Illustrators

The Middle Earth Illustrators J.R.R. Tolkien Loved—and the Ones He Abhorred

Lauren Davis

While Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and now The Hobbit movie may be how many modern folks see Middle Earth, it’s important to remember that the first person to illustrate J.R.R. Tolkien’s world was Tolkien himself. Tolkien had a very clear sense of how Middle Earth should and should not look, and while he had doubts about his own abilities as an illustrator, he also had very strong opinions about other artists who tried to draw his world and his characters. Here are some of the illustrators whose works found favor with Tolkien—and a few who attracted his artistic ire.

Top image: “The Mumak of Harad” by Cor Blok.

Tolkien’s Own Illustrations for The Hobbit

We may as well start with Tolkien himself, who provided the very first illustrations of Middle Earth for The Hobbit. While Tolkien was confident about his abilities as a writer, he didn’t feel he had much skill as an illustrator, and constantly apologized for his artwork in his letters to his publishers, George Allen and Stanley Unwin. But Allen and Unwin found the illustrations charming, though besides Tolkien’s maps, only one illustrated plate, of Mirkwood, was included in the first printing and was omitted in the second printing.

But even as he deprecated his own skills, Tolkien reached for a sort of visual “truth” in his illustrations. He had clear visions for the rustic fields and pathways of Hobbiton and the varied grays and greens of Rivendell. He drew from fairy tale illustrators like Jennie Harbour for some of his more narrative illustrations, like “The Trolls,” adding menace to the dark magic of the woods.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Tolkien’s art, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s new book, The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, features more than 100 pieces of Hobbit art created by Tolkien.

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