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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
JRRT Author & Illustrator, ch. 5: LOTR: Wrapping It Up: Cover Design

Luthien Rising

Mar 25 2007, 12:47am

Views: 544
JRRT Author & Illustrator, ch. 5: LOTR: Wrapping It Up: Cover Design Can't Post

Tolkien, of course, took interest in every aspect of his books' publication, right down to cover design. An author once asked me if publishers would be receptive to his providing a cover design along with him manuscript. I answered, "Weeeelllll...." Tolkien's publisher, though, was willing to at least work with their obsessive author on this aspect of publication.

These are two of the five extant designs Tolkien made for The Fellowship of the Ring:

left: #176 (H&S p. 179); pencil, black and red ink, red and blue pencil; the ribbon is outlined in black ink and blue pencil; the upper ring is red-jeweled; the ribbon reads "In the land of shadows where the Mordor lies" [no, that is not a typo]

right: #177 (H&S p. 179); pencil, black and red ink, coloured pencil

1. What elements do you see as key to Tolkien's representation of FOTR? What do these choices tell us – the bookstore browser – about what FOTR is about?

2. Don't you just wish that H&S had included the version "on black paper, with lettering in red and gold"?

This next is Tolkien's final version of his proposed cover design for The Two Towers (an early version included two sets of rings: three and seven, with one tower set in the middle and the other to the left, and with the eagle entering from the left):

#180 (H&S p. 181); pencil, black ink, red, white, and grey body colour

3. Taken together with the second shown of the FOTR covers, what does this TTT cover show us of Tolkien's approach to layout? Is there too much story told? Too little?

And here's one for The Return of the King – a design that, as Hammond & Scull point out, would have been enormously expensive to print (and would still be today):

# 182 (p. 183); on black paper; black ink, white green, and red body colour, gold paint

Allen & Unwin, the publishers, liked Tolkien's concept for FOTR but felt too many colours were needed, which would have increased the cost and complexity of printing. H&S report that "Rayner Unwin suggested that the same design – the central device combined with titling – be used on all three volumes, varying the colour of the background paper for each volume, and lettering in type rather than calligraphy" (p. 181). While for practical reasons of colouring, the publishers wanted two rings, Tolkien wrote back that three mattered. He suggested Black Letter type for the titling:

(source: http://z.about.com/...R/gl_blackletter.gif )

The publishers' production staff believed, however, that this would be illegible, and they aimed for something in between Roman and Black Letter. They also proposed printing LOTR on green paper, TTT on blue paper, and ROTK on grey paper. Tolkien called the lettering produced "ugly" (and went into elaborate detail on in what ways it was ugly), disagreed with "the balance of the whole," and declared the paper colours "both ugly and unsuitable" (qtd. in H&S, p. 182).

4. What would make these green, blue, and grey papers "unsuitable"? And what colours are your copies in?

Tolkien won on the typeface, and the titles were printed in Albertus for the proofs ...

(Source: http://www.identifont.com/samples/adobe/Albertus.gif )

... and in Perpetua on the final covers, all on grey paper:

(Source: http://www.textism.com/...es/1925_perpetua.gif )

Now, Perpetua was designed by the great Eric Gill, described by the Textism website as "a weirdo ... who made gorgeous things." The uppercase letters of Perpetua (1925) were based on the inscriptions on Roman monuments (Gill was a trained stonecarver). It was designed for a book about Saint Perpetua, a young married mother of the 3rd century who, with her slave Felicity, suffered in prison and had visions. You might like to read about them in Wikipedia or in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

5. Yes, Tolkien cared about even the typeface chosen for his cover – probably just as much as Eric Gill did in creating it. What does the type design tell us about what we are reading? Which of these would you want on your copy, and why?

6. Some poststructuralist methods of interpretation would pull each of these layers of written context into the interpretation of the "text itself" of The Lord of the Rings – the design of the cover and the typeface proclaiming the books' titles; the original use of that typeface in a sort of hagiography (a book telling the life of a saint); the writings of that saint herself. Now, you might think this all a lot of hogwash, but just for fun ... How might St. Perpetua's vision illuminate The Lord of the Rings?

Lúthien Rising
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. / We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Subject User Time
JRRT Author & Illustrator, ch. 5: LOTR: Wrapping It Up: Cover Design Luthien Rising Send a private message to Luthien Rising Mar 25 2007, 12:47am
    So the Two Towers are Orthanc and Minas Tirith Beren IV Send a private message to Beren IV Mar 25 2007, 1:10am
        The dust jacket image is Minas Morgul and Orthanc drogo Send a private message to drogo Mar 25 2007, 2:14am
            The quote you gave us from Letters FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 25 2007, 5:01pm
                It was Minas Morgul early on drogo Send a private message to drogo Mar 25 2007, 6:40pm
    Minas Morgul looks even more like a lighthouse FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 25 2007, 2:03pm
        It reminds me of a chess piece / drogo Send a private message to drogo Mar 25 2007, 3:58pm
            I wonder if that was intentional. Morwen Send a private message to Morwen Mar 25 2007, 4:31pm
    My answers, by drogo drogo Send a private message to drogo Mar 25 2007, 3:56pm
        Elrond's ring... N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 25 2007, 4:19pm
    I love Tolkien's design concepts, although they generally look unfinished. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 26 2007, 2:42pm


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