JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was first published in September 1937. To mark next year’s 75th anniversary, HarperCollins is releasing The Art of the Hobbit, a collection of all the art work Tolkien made to illustrate his first novel.
Only a few of Tolkien’s drawings were published in the first edition of The Hobbit: 10 black and white illustrations, two maps and the dust jacket designs, front and back. Tolkien was already an accomplished artist before his first book was printed. He had drawn many illustrations and sketches to accompany the original manuscript, and although over the years some of them were published in various new editions of The Hobbit and other books, the entire collection wound up in relative obscurity in the Tolkien archive at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
When HarperCollins publisher David Brawn checked the archive in preparation for a 75th anniversary reprint of The Hobbit, he found much to his surprise that there were 110 illustrations — ink drawings, plans, maps, watercolors, sketches, preliminary and alternate versions of final pieces — made by the author. Two dozen of them have never been published before, others have never been published before in color.
“[The Art of the Hobbit] includes his conceptual sketches for the cover design, a couple of early versions of the maps and pages where he’s experimenting with the runic forms, as well as a couple of manuscript pages,” said Brawn. “It shows that Tolkien’s creativity went beyond the writing, that it was a fully thought out conception. When he writes about the hobbit hole [“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort”], he’s designed it as well. And by doing that, it makes his description more vivid … Tolkien was an accomplished amateur artist. He was a great admirer of Arthur Rackham and you can see a little bit of that style coming through.”
The book will be available starting Thursday, October 27. Even though the anniversary of The Hobbit‘s publication is a year away, this month is the 75th anniversary of Tolkien’s handing the manuscript to his publishers.