The Art of The Lord of the Rings is a magnificent book. Published to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of The Lord of the Rings, this collection of Tolkien’s art was edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, the top-notch Tolkien scholars previously responsible for The Art of The Hobbit, among other Tolkien-related books.
The Art of The Lord of the Rings includes all the art, the maps, the preliminary sketches and final versions that Tolkien sent his publishers for possible use as interior art and covers, as well as the numerous sketches Tolkien made in various mss. to help him visualize the story and scene. In some cases there are multiple versions of the same image, as Tolkien works through a rough sketch to a version he sent to his publisher, or a finished piece for his own use. In each instance, Scull and Hammond provide both a context for the piece in terms of Tolkien’s composition and in terms of the internal chronologies of LOTR.
Many of the sketches were originally created on scraps of paper from the end of student exam booklets or similar bits of paper; these are already yellowing with age and acid, so having all of these images not only reproduced accurately at full size but having had a digital record made by the two primary libraries involved (Marquette University and Oxford University’s Bodleian) is especially wonderful.
There are some truly wonderful images here, like the “facsimiles” of leaves from the Book of Mazarbul found in Moria, which Gandalf reads from in Book II chapter 5 (“The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”). Plates 55–63 show multiple versions of the leaves as Tolkien used different materials and deliberately tried to capture the look of a worn ms., complete with the typical holes, as well as showing the damage done by fire. I know Tolkien felt a bit awkward about making some of the drawings, and certainly he was stung by some of the critical response to the small images included in the first publication of The Fellowship of The Ring, but I think that the “manuscripts” he created like The Red Book of Westmarch, as well as Tolkien’s own scholarly background, suggest that we should view many of the drawings and maps as if they were in fact parts of an illuminated manuscript.
It’s also wonderful to see full-color full size plates featuring some of the “finished” drawings Tolkien made for himself or for possible inclusion in the books, like the aerial view of Rivendell (plate 34).It’s also fascinating to see the writer’s mind at work, not only in the examples of the recursively edited mss. but in his recursive sketches as he works out the appearance of Orthanc, or Farmer Cotten’s house, or, most especially, the various maps of Middle Earth. In all there are over 180 images, more than half of which have not been previously published.
This is a beautifully produced and meticulously edited book, and so well done that it’s of interest to the casual reader of LOTR as well as the dedicated reader or scholar. I’m going to be giving The Art of The Lord of the Rings as holiday present, and can’t wait to hear what the recipients think.
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)