J.R.R. Tolkien’s Little-Known Original Drawings for the First Edition of “The Hobbit”
A lively new look at one of the most beloved fantasy stories of all time.
By Maria Popova
In October of 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892–September 2, 1973) delivered to his publisher the manuscript of what would become one of the most celebrated fantasy books of all time. In September of the following year, The Hobbit made its debut, with 20 or so original drawings, two maps, and a cover painting by Tolkien himself. But it turns out the author created more than 100 illustrations, recently uncovered amidst Tolkien’s papers, digitized by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and freshly released in The Art of the Hobbit (public library) — a magnificent volume celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit with 110 beautiful, many never-before-seen illustrations by Tolkien, ranging from pencil sketches to ink line drawings to watercolors. It’s a fine addition to this omnibus of famous creators’ little-known talents, and a priceless piece of literary history.
In creating the artwork for The Hobbit, Tolkien borrowed from a short story he had written for his son Michael, titled “Roverandom.”
Also included are conceptual sketches for the now-iconic dust jacket cover painting of the mountains Bilbo Baggins transverses in his adventures.
HarperCollins publisher David Brawn observes The Hobbit’s unfair eclipse in The Lord of the Rings’ shadow:
People have celebrated Tolkien as a writer for years — you haven’t been able to get away from him since all the books of the century polls. But The Lord of the Rings has always been the focus since it was published in 1954 — it’s a much more grown-up, significant book. It has overshadowed The Hobbit as a more old-fashioned, children’s book, which has become known in the context of The Lord of the Rings. The anniversary allows us to move the spotlight back on to the book which started it all.”
A rare piece of cross-disciplinary creativity from the mind of one of modern history’s greatest creators, The Art of the Hobbit is equal parts literary treasure and treat of art, exploring the notion of the author as designer — a particularly timely concept in the age of self-publishing and disciplinary cross-pollination in the making of books. Complement it with this rare recording of Tolkien reading from his beloved book and some gorgeous vintage illustrations for it from around the world.
Published November 1, 2011