Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

The Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is everything it should be. It reproduces every surviving image author J.R.R. Tolkien produced for his children's novel The Hobbit (1937) and provides copious contextualizing essays by editors Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. I'm no Tolkien expert (far from it!), but the text seemed extremely authoritative, based on solid research and textual understanding. Several gatefolds throughout allow easy comparison of Tolkien's various drafts of many illustrations, sometimes evolving from just a few scratched lines to eventual woodcut-like ink drawings or lush watercolor paintings

Some of Tolkien's early drawings seem positively amateurish, but I find many of the finished pieces simply breathtaking in their beauty. This book demonstrates that the painstaking care he put into his writing applied equally well to his artwork. Since maps play a large role in creating the scope of Tolkien's Middle Earth, it's gratifying to see their development here, as his skills improved and his story concepts changed or expanded.

Being a publication design nerd, I especially appreciated the attention paid by the text - and by Tolkien himself - to even the smallest things, like the decorative elements embossed on the hardcover.

This book may have been timed to coincide with the release of the upcoming motion picture, but this is no quickie tie-in product. It's a substantial volume in its own right.

The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
ISBN-10: 0547928254
ISBN-13: 978-0547928258
144 pages, $40.00