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Reviewed by:
  • Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth by Catherine McIlwaine, and: Tolkien Treasures by Catherine McIlwaine
  • Denis Bridoux
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, by Catherine McIlwaine. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2018. 416 pp. £40.00 (hardcover), £26.00/$40.00 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-85124-485-0 (hardcover), 978-1-85124-497-3 (paperback).
Tolkien Treasures, by Catherine McIlwaine. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2018. 144 pp. £12.00/$20.00 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-85124-496-6.

Although Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth was initially meant as a catalogue to accompany the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford in 2018, in fact it is much more. After Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien (1979), Tolkien: Life and Legend (the 1992 Bodleian Library centenary exhibition catalogue), J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (1995), and the twin volumes The Art of The Hobbit (2011) and The Art of The Lord of the Rings (2015), this fifth-generation book on Tolkien and his art, and its companion volume Tolkien Treasures, aim to present an authoritative perspective on Tolkien's pictorial art, framing it in the context of his personal, professional, family, academic, and creative life.

A considerable amount of time and effort has obviously been invested in the format and setting of the two books. Each is nearly square in format, with substantial inside flaps, and with the name Tolkien engraved in gold on the cover above the rest of the title. (Except as noted, all Maker references are to the paperback edition). Each cover is matte, with a slate background, but the Maker cover has a more clinging texture, which makes it more sensuous to hold and less likely to slide off the knees. Maker presents the central section of "Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-Elves" on its cover while, fittingly for its title, Treasures features the central section of "Conversation with Smaug."

Patterns from the Hobbit hardback edition, also in gold, are reproduced on the inside flaps of Maker, Smaug on the front flap, and the mountain frieze on the back flap. While the endpapers of Treasures are brick-colored, those of Maker, both in paperback and hardback formats, present an enlarged version of the central section of the first map of The Lord of the Rings, while the collector's edition hardcover has "The Elvenking's Gate" from The Hobbit.

The Maker book is printed on off-white paper, whereas Treasures's paper is whiter, finer-grained, smoother, and more lustrous. Despite [End Page 143] the latter volume's smaller size, the printing makes the illustrations appear clearer and sharper.

Treasures presents its text in two columns and Maker in two columns for the essays section and in three for the catalogue. Each includes a biographical outline and an index. All the photos and illustrations presented cite their sources and, for Tolkien's own material, their archive location for reference. In addition, Maker includes a prefatory "Note to the Reader," explaining the form and style of various entries. Each piece of artwork comes with information on the medium used, showing how commonly Tolkien could employ a range of different media on the same piece to achieve the effect he sought. In addition, each piece of artwork displayed in the exhibition, save the newspaper doodles, is presented with its size (in mm).

Tolkien Treasures

Although presenting similar material, the two volumes complement, rather than duplicate, each other, addressing themselves to different readerships. Unlike Maker, Treasures is not a catalogue. It makes no reference to the Bodleian exhibition and is meant to be appreciated in and by itself. Primarily art-based, with an abundance of bright colors and full-page drawings and maps, it aims to appeal to our senses and emotions, and its smaller size makes it a suitable gift for children who will enjoy poring over it for hours: and they will find plenty there to tease their curiosity. Functioning as an introduction to Tolkien's art for the common or unfamiliar reader, Treasures keeps supplementary information to a minimum and leaves the illustrations to speak for themselves, although it does begin with a timeline that helps readers orient themselves in Tolkien's life, work, and creative output...

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