Friday, December 4, 2015

The Art of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

If you're an extreme Tolkien fan, like myself, probably already own several versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings both in paperback and hardcover, illustrated and not. Each edition has its strengths and weaknesses, but none is perfect on its own. Over the past three years, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has released two books of original Tolkien illustrations. Allow me to briefly tell you about each of them.

When reading through various editions of The Hobbit, which I own, I find myself puzzled by the lack of illustrations in a book of this nature. There's a scant few and a map or two, but not nearly enough to capture the beauty of Tolkien's words. When going through the hundreds of documents in Tolkien's estate, scores of illustrations were found and scanned to create the book The Art of the Hobbit. The book itself is 150 pages and hardcover, measuring in at 10" x 10". It's an odd-size for a shelf, but you'll probably not have it on the shelf much and find yourself flipping through it or displaying on the coffee table. The book contains over 100 original Tolkien sketches, illustrations, and maps.

Tolkien was not a trained artist by any means, but his artwork would make you think otherwise. Like, the words in his books, which went through numerous changes, his maps and illustrations did as well. The book does a nice job of capturing the evolution of his artwork, going from very crude sketches to beautiful masterpieces of pen and ink, sometimes even full color. Accompanying each illustration is text excerpts from The Hobbit and explanations of the illustration, the changes in the illustration (if there were multiple illustrations of the same scene), and commentary on why Tolkien chose to illustrate something a particular way. This is truly a beautiful book, but if I had to change one thing about it, it would be that some of the pages fold out. I'd rather there be no fold-out pages, but that is a minor gripe for such a treasure of a book.

The Art of The Lord of the Rings is the long-awaited companion volume to The Art of the Hobbit. The publisher kept the size of the hardcover the same (10" x 10"), which I always appreciate. There is nothing worse than having a book that belongs with another and them being different sizes! The length of this book is almost 250 pages, which is 100 pages more than The Art of the Hobbit. 250 pages is a generous plenty, but greedy Tolkien fan that I am I was hoping for close to 500 pages, since this is a trilogy after all! Also unlike its companion book, there are no fold-out pages, which I greatly appreciate, as I always felt like I was going to end up getting those pages even more folded up or worse ripping them.

Upon picking up this book, I was expecting many illustrations of Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn. Instead, I would say this book is more maps and runes/inscriptions than anything. That is not a complaint, merely an observation. There are images of castles and keeps and towers. But one notices that there are numerous illustrations of the inscription on the One Ring and so many maps and revisions of maps. At times, it feels like looking through a time lapsed atlas where you see the changes and evolutions of a specific area. Other times, it feels like you are flipping through a travel log and tracing the journey of the Fellowship. Pair all of these illustration with the masterful commentary by editors Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, and you have a book that makes the perfect gift for any serious Tolkien fan. Be sure to check out other books edited by them including J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator.

These books were provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!