I have read JRR Tolkien since I was but a wee lad. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings series more times than I can remember. And while I haven’t read The Hobbit quite so often, I have still read it numerous times. I even re-read The Hobbit this year after watching the movie. I don’t dress up in costumes and go to conventions or anything but I am a pretty big Tolkien fan.
So it is kinda weird that I didn’t have anything better than some cheap paperback versions of the books. I decided to rectify that once I saw that a new version had been released featuring illustrations by Jemima Catlin. This seemed like the perfect version to read to my kids.
The story behind it is pretty compelling too. As told in an interview with The Big Issue last month, the 26 year-old Jemima Catlin was simply trying to finish her degree. As her required special project she decided to illustrate Tolkien’s short story Roverandom. When she finished she put her illustrations together with the text and sent it off to Harper-Collins. They really liked the work and sent it on to the Tolkien Estate.
But alas, Christopher Tolkien didn’t think the illustrations aligned with his father’s vision for the story. Heartbreak, right?
Of course, the fact that we are talking about her illustrations of The Hobbit means it didn’t end there.
A year later Christopher asked for some Hobbit illustrations and Catlin was embarking on the journey of a lifetime.
With the film versions now so well known, Jemima’s brief was to bring something fresh to the book by focusing on Tolkien’s own words – and the few drawings he made to accompany the story. This meant deliberately ignoring the work of the likes of Alan Lee and John Howe – whose own highly detailed drawings of Gandalf & Co inspired Peter Jackson and played such a crucial role in transferring the books to the big screen.
Dorchester-based Jemima, now a full-time artist, also drew on the mythology and landscape of her native Dorset – exhibiting a love of the environment Tolkien himself would surely have approved of.
The finished result is extremely pleasing. Jemima’s drawings (see below) have an old-fashioned, between-the-wars feel that seems appropriate. And it’s surprisingly complete. In these days of squeezed margins and cheap paperbacks, the new edition is a lush hardback with no fewer than 150 illustrations, several of which are full page.
When I read that I was intrigued and decided that this was exactly what I needed. I ordered it and recently had a chance to review the illustrations.
I have to agree with the Big Issue above. There is a old-fashioned, old-world feel that is fresh and different from “classic” Tolkien illustrations. There is an accessibility and warmth to them as well that I really like. As I had hoped, it seems like the perfect volume to read out lout to my kids. Great size, full color illustrations with very readable text (although I am not a big fan of the light gray text for quotes and poems).
I look forward to exploring this world and its characters and landscape with my family for a long time.
Check out the gallery below to get a look at the illustrations.