Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, J.R.R.Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator (Houghton Miffin Company 1995, 2000)
"No study of J. R. R. Tolkien's written work can be complete without also looking at his art." - Christopher Tolkien
This book compiles nearly 200 original images from the works of Tolkien, including a large percentage of previously unpublished material, and while the images are perfect for Tolkien fans of all ages, the text is for the more studious Tolkien enthusiast.While I would have preferred a chronological order that his creative process might be more easily inferred, I cannot fault the impeccable scholarship. Charting growth of technique in both prose and related illustrative styles, the text is a dense stew of biographical details and personal anecdotes, blended with Tolkien's prose descriptions culled from The Silmarillion and speculations on possible influences.
The first chapter is entitled "Early Work," and includes a succinct biographical sketch in the text. The last picture of the chapter is a green landscape from 1940, the first a childhood drawing from 1904, and between the two the text describes how he projected onto his surroundings the mythic cycle that would go on to become The Silmarillion. He often worked small, with watercolour, pencil & coloured pencil, as well as the occasional black ink. Two pieces, 'Foxglove Year' and again 'The cottage, barnt green' really leap off the page, vibrant because of the attention to detail, to completeness. Another picture, 'Lyme Regis Harbour from the Drawing Room Window of the Cups Hotel' features a very early form of what was to become his ubiquitous monogram, dated August 1906.
The second chapter, "Visions, Myths, & Legends," incorporates early work as well as work inspired by the mythic cycles he read, and the one he created. Images from dreams and daydreams illustrate a discussion of how his writings were a means of grounding the visions that came to him, and his artwork served as a kind of source material for his writing. Elements from these recur in other places, adapted and updated to scenes from Middle-earth. There are pieces like "The Shores of Faery," illustrating a poem included in the text, scenes from Beowulf such as 'Grendel's Mere,' all done in wildly different styles, from the abstract ('Moonlight on a Wood') to the naturalist's sketch to the baroquely ornate.
The bulk of the earlies visionary pieces come from an envelope entitled "Earliest Ishnesses," phantasmagoric pieces with titles "Undertenishness" and "Grownupishness" to name a few. Ishness became a word he used to encompasses things abstract and symbolic, and more work in the chapter comes from a later artists pad he titled "The Book Of Ishness," inscribing an inverted version of his monogram on the back cover. The text implies that this book was the symbolic key he used to unlock his mythic cycle. Within its pages he worked to see what came unbidden to his mind, and the works are abstract, symbolic reflections of his subconscious mind.
The third chapter, "Art For Children," opens with a wonderful piece illustrating the misadventures of Father Christmas and the elves & north polar bear as they prepared toys and fought off goblin infestations. One of the family traditions, Tolkien crafted each letter for his children, from the illustrative panels to the account of yearly preparations for Christmas Eve. Perhaps best known of his work for children, "Mr. Bliss" seems more consciously plotted, and the images and story go together. A breif discussion of the design and layout, as well as the problems with publishing and distribution run throughout the text, and only a few scenes from the story are reprinted.
Another story cycle began with the picture "House where Rover Began His Adventures as a Toy" drawn in 1925 for Michael Tolkien to comfort him after he had lost his favorite toy, a small lead dog. Thus began a story about a real dog, Rover, who annoys a wizard and is turned into a toy. When Rover the toy is lost on a beach by a small boy, a sand-sorcerer sends him to the moon on the back of a gull. We see the lunar landscape as Rover arrives on the moon where he is called Roverandom, as well as a pencil illustration of a white dragon pursuing Roverandom & his moondog friend.
The fourth chapter examines The Hobbit, and the various artwork Tolkien devised, early imagery through to fully realized illustrations of the Hill, Rivendell, "Bilbo comes to the huts of the Raft Elves" and the dust-jacket's final artwork. The text discusses what Tolkien first envisioned, what the publisher's could accomplish, and the compromises that were made to bring the book to print.
Chapter five follows with The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's masterful execution of Barad-dûr. Images of Moria Gate & The Doors of Durin follow, but the truly impressive piece in this chapter is a sketch of Shelob's lair taken from the longhand draft of Book 45, chapter 8. The dust jacket sketches and designs, pencil drawings of Isengard, the forest of Lothlorien in spring, and more make this the most fascinating section of the book for me.
Chapter 6, "Patterns & Devices," seems to be more of an addendum or appendix than a chapter in its own right. These devices for elvish heraldry along with exampls of tengwar (his elvish script) reveal a mind constantly inventing the culture of the landscape he designed. Some are representative of different Houses, others simple doodles or exercises in technique. There are also oddities like the "Mordor Special Mission Flying Corps" emblem for the Nazgûl. Finally, an appendix closes the book with samples of pages Tolkien created to illustrate his elvish script along with a description of how Tolkien's interest in languages naturally progressed to a fascination with & eventual mastery of calligraphy.
I don't think this book is for everyone. There are much more interesting, cohesive ways to be introduced to J R R Tolkien's work, and I would rather have seen an edition of "The Book of Ishnessess" published, or as complete as possible an edition of Roverandom produced than be presented with only partial elements. And while the text succeeds at showing the effect interplay between words, images, and design had or might have had on Tolkien's creations, it does so more or less in passing than by design. In short, this is a comprehensive and unique companion piece to Tolkien's writing that deepens the experience of reading the text, while being somewhat frustrating in its incomplete survey.