Seeing and Studying Tolkien’s Art

Last week, I posted about a recently published article that I co-authored with my colleague Jeff MacLeod on Tolkien as artist and writer, and I mentioned some of the secondary sources that we used in that essay. Today, I want to supplement the bibliography in our essay with a couple of other resources and an upcoming event for anyone who is interested in seeing and studying Tolkien’s artwork.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth
Bodleian Library, Oxford. Tolkien’s annotated map.

The exhibition that I am very much looking forward to is Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, running from June to October this year. This event brings together manuscripts from the Oxford collection and from the Tolkien Archive in Marquette University in the US and promises to show some of Tolkien’s watercolour illustrations for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, paintings in his Book of Ishness, maps, dust jacket designs, and even some personal artefacts such as boxes of paints and coloured pencils.

While I have been fortunate enough to work with some of Tolkien’s manuscripts, his original drawings are not usually accessible to the regular scholar. This will be a rare opportunity — if not to actually handle — at least to see some of his artwork firsthand. For those who can’t come to Oxford for this exhibition, the Bodleian will be publishing in June what they describe as a “richly illustrated book.”

The Tolkien Art Index

Here’s an extremely useful new resource for the study of Tolkien’s art:  The Tolkien Art Index.  The creation of Erik Mueller-Harder at Vermont Softworks, this database aims to list every published instance of Tolkien’s artwork. Each of the 463 items has a unique accession number and identifies the Marquette or Bodleian manuscript in which it appears. Ample tags allow you to search in various ways. For example, you can find images by medium (“blue pen”); content (“mountains-hills”); location (“Mordor”), and more — you have to sample it yourself to understand the full range of possibilities! All of the published sources are listed with dates, page numbers, and notes. The only thing that is lacking at the moment is permission to include thumbnail images of all of the items. Let’s hope this will be forthcoming, but even without that, The Tolkien Art Index should be an invaluable tool for anyone studying Tolkien’s artwork. If you are attending the Kalamazoo conference this spring, you can hear Erik speak about the Art Index in the 2018 Tolkien Seminar on May 9th.

The Illustrator Mary Fairburn and Tolkien

Jeff and I were pleasantly surprised to see another article on Tolkien and art in the latest volume of Tolkien Studies right next to our essay on Tolkien as an artist and writer. Paul Tankard writes about Tolkien’s correspondence with Mary Fairburn in his essay, “‘Akin to my own Inspiration’: Mary Fairburn and the Art of Middle-earth” (Tolkien Studies, vol. 14, pp. 133 – 154). Fairburn’s illustrations were featured in the 2015 Tolkien Calendar but were not published in Tolkien’s lifetime. Tankard’s essay examines Tolkien’s views on illustration and his opinions of various illustrators. Another essay to add to your bibliography if you’re studying Tolkien’s views on art and illustration!


2 responses to “Seeing and Studying Tolkien’s Art”

  1. I am so excited about the exhibition at the Bodleian, I have admired Tolkien’s art work for many years but only recently noticed it getting more attention – perhaps that’s just due to me not looking in the right places. I have ‘bookmarked’ your article, I’m looking forward to reading it. Thank you for your work on this topic!


  2. Thanks! I am excited about the Bodleian exhibition too. I expect I’ll be standing in front of the displays for hours, holding up traffic. There’s nothing like seeing the real thing, even if you can’t touch it. I feel very lucky to be able to visit Oxford at the right time.

    Liked by 1 person

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