- The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
An exhibit of many of the originals of Tolkien’s artwork for The Hobbit graced the 1987 Mythopoeic Conference (the 18th) at Marquette University. I was pleased with the opportunity to see the originals of some of Tolkien’s pieces. Included in the exhibit was “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves.” Two things struck me on first sight: “It’s so small,” and then “It’s so blue.” Virtually all reproductions of this piece present an over-all green hue to the image. Seeing the original, I realized two things about why the reproductions look as they do: the sun which peeps over the edge of the background mountain is very, very pale, and the sky is such a delicate blue wash it is almost invisible. In order to bring up the detail of the rising sun, the painting is usually filtered through a faint yellow screen. The result is the familiar green hue of most of the reproductions.
Also included in the Marquette exhibit was the original painting of “Conversation with Smaug.” I confess that this is my favorite of Tolkien’s paintings. The difference between the original and the reproductions is less dramatic in this case. However, some things a reproduction cannot quite convey. In the original, the blacks are quite deep and solid, while the yellow-oranges are vivid and bright. One thing I have always enjoyed in this painting is the sly expression on the dragon.
Seeing the originals in the exhibit gave me a new appreciation of J.R.R. Tolkien as an artist. This appreciation was augmented a few years later, when I visited Oxford for the Tolkien Centenary conference. I had always assumed that the roundedness of his landscapes of the Shire was borne of a naïf stylization, until I actually rode through the Oxfordshire countryside after the conference. That drive made me realize that he had rendered the Shire as the countryside in which most of his days as a scholar had been spent. I gained an insight into how observant of nature Tolkien was as an artist.
Thus it was with great and pleased anticipation that I approached the task of reviewing this volume of Tolkien’s artwork. Hammond and Scull have gathered finished pieces, discarded artistic choices, and the barest of preliminary sketches of the author’s artwork for The Hobbit. This well-put-together volume is presented to the reader in a squared page binding, in a slipcase. The selection of format might seem surprising at first, but in the end it works quite well for the display of the various pieces of artwork.
Hammond and Scull make a point of informing the reader that the pieces contained in the book are reproduced in the exact dimensions [End Page 220] and size as the originals (there are some enlargements, mostly of specific details). Those who are familiar with the poster sized reproductions of “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves” should keep this important difference in mind. Also of interest is that the reproductions in this volume, with the exception of “Mirkwood” (the original being lost), were all made from the original pieces. This absence of “reproductions of reproductions” allows for a fresher perspective on the pieces. Although the reproduction of “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves” in this volume does appear to have been screened (to bring up the detail of the pale sun), it is not as heavily so as in previous reproductions. Considered together, an excellent job has been done in showing us even the lightest of sketches in which Tolkien tried out an idea.
In addition to the squared pages, Hammond and Scull make use of gatefold pages in order to present a sequence of four images that can be viewed together. This gives the reader a satisfying opportunity of studying Tolkien’s choices for the progress of a...