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Geek Out!

November 9, 2011

A few days ago, we replied to five questions sent us by a writer for the CNN blog Geek Out! Excerpts from our response appear in an article posted today, combined with comments by Clifford Broadway and Larry Curtis of and with copy drawn from elsewhere on the Web. Some of the latter is nonsense we’ve seen now on many sites, such as that Tolkien’s Hobbit pictures were recently ‘unearthed’ at the Bodleian during preparations for the Hobbit 75th anniversary celebration – a so-called ‘happy accident’ that wasn’t – and that The Hobbit as originally published had ‘about twenty original drawings’ by Tolkien, when in fact it had only ten, plus two maps, the binding design, and the dust-jacket art. When we first read the Geek Out! article, there were three instances of ‘Tolkein’ for ‘Tolkien’; later, two of these had been corrected, and it may be that some of the errors we called to the blogger’s attention this evening will have been corrected even by the time we upload the present post.

At any rate, here are our interview responses as provided (using American spelling for an American site), with the original questions paraphrased:

What do we hope for our readers?

We hope that those who know only the text of The Hobbit will be excited to discover that it was originally an illustrated book, and that those who have read The Hobbit with its usual set of pictures will be glad to find that Tolkien made many more.

How did we design the book?

For the most part, we laid out the pictures in the order of events in The Hobbit, and different versions of illustrations in the order that Tolkien made them, as far as we can work that out. He drew a series of pictures of the hill where Bilbo the hobbit lived, for example, and of Rivendell, the entrance to the Elvenking’s halls, and Bilbo on the Forest River. Our publisher asked us to include four fold-outs, each of which allowed us to show four or five illustrations in a sequence side by side and in a large size. We have separate sections for the several maps that Tolkien drew, and for his binding and dust-jacket designs. We had the most fun, though, in putting together on one page details from the illustrations showing Bilbo at home and having his adventures.

What did we find most striking about Tolkien’s vision, and why have generations of readers identified with The Hobbit?

Tolkien filled his most finished pictures with so many details that they’re of interest no matter how many times we look at them. Of course, he did the same thing with his stories, which is one reason why they’re read over and over again. The Hobbit in particular appeals because we can all identify with little Bilbo, who discovers a wide world outside his comfortable home and hidden abilities within himself.

Do we think that the Hobbit illustrations add an extra dimension to Tolkien, and what do we think about so much Tolkien material being issued posthumously?

We would all be much the poorer if we couldn’t read posthumously published works by Tolkien such as The Silmarillion, and Roverandom and Mr. Bliss, and of course the invaluable manuscripts collected by his son Christopher as The History of Middle-earth. All of these reveal new aspects of his genius. It’s important also to see his paintings and drawings, because Tolkien’s powers of invention as an artist equaled his skill with words. His art for The Hobbit expands upon his story – his final illustration of Hobbiton, for instance, includes details not put into a text until The Lord of the Rings – and as assembled in The Art of The Hobbit, helps to show how the story was written. In our new book, we’ve been able to include many more Hobbit pictures than we had room for in our earlier book, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, many that have not been previously published, and all of them in color.

The Art of The Hobbit, and the film adaptation of The Hobbit due next year, are likely to spark renewed interest in the work. Will our book shed new light on Tolkien and The Hobbit?

We hope that Tolkien’s visions for The Hobbit will impress themselves upon readers, as a contrast to however the filmmakers interpret his work, and that our book will lead still more to read The Hobbit and to form their own personal visions of its characters and world.

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