Long in the Shadows, ‘Lord of the Rings’ Author JRR Tolkien’s Fantastical Artworks Are Now Being Shown for the First Time

The author created many depictions of the magical world of Middle-earth.

JRR Tolkien, Conversation with Smaug, a watercolor illustrating a scene from The Hobbit. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

Middle-earth lovers, rejoice! JRR Tolkien didn’t just invent the magical world of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, turns out he illustrated it too. Now, the famed author’s never-before-seen artworks are among the over-200 objects included in a new exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Tolkien didn’t consider himself a professional artist, but he illustrated many scenes from his books, some of which were included in the published versions. He designed the cover for the first edition of The Hobbit, which the Tolkien Estate describes as “one of the most distinguished British dust-jackets of the 20th century.” The show will also include maps of Middle-earth drawn by the author, and early abstract paintings created between 1911 and 1915 in a sketchbook he called The Book of Ishness

“This material is unknown to Tolkien fans so it’s going to be marvelous,” show curator Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodleian’s Tolkien archivist, told BBC.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Conversation with Smaug, a watercolor illustrating a scene from The Hobbit. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

JRR Tolkien, The Shores of Faery (1915), an illustration for The Silmarillion. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

Titled “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth,” the exhibition includes manuscripts, letters from fans such as Joni Mitchell and W.H. Auden, Tolkien’s art supplies, and other personal effects, such as his briefcase and tobacco pipes. “I think his personal objects will really speak to visitors,” added McIlwaine.

Trained as a linguist, Tolkien believed that a believable language needed a detailed mythology to go along with it. His high fantasy tales of wizards, hobbits, dwarfs, and orcs functioned in-part as vehicles for his invented Elvish languages.

“Tolkien was a genius with a unique approach to literature,” Bodleian librarian Richard Ovenden told the Guardian. “His imagined world was created through a combination of his deep scholarship, his rich imagination and powerful creative talent, and informed by his own lived experiences. We are incredibly proud to hold the Tolkien archive and to be able to share so many previously unseen items in this once-in-a-generation exhibition.”

See more objects from the show below.

J.R.R. Tolkien, dust jacket for <em>The Hobbit</em> with the author's notes. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

JRR Tolkien, dust jacket for The Hobbit with the author’s notes. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves. This watercolor illustration was included in the second printing of The Hobbit. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

JRR Tolkien, Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves. This watercolor illustration was included in the second printing of The Hobbit. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote this never-exhibited letter to his fiancée as a student. Courtesy of the Tolkien Trust.

JRR Tolkien wrote this never-exhibited letter to his fiancée as a student. Courtesy of the Tolkien Trust.

J.R.R. Tolkien, watercolor of an eagle. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

JRR Tolkien, watercolor of an eagle. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate.

“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” is on view at the Bodleian Library, ST Lee Gallery, Weston Library, at Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG, June 1–October 28, 2018. Tickets are free.


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