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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
Lorien


Mar 25 2007, 12:47am

Post #1 of 11 (571 views)
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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?

Lϊthien 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.


Beren IV
Gondor


Mar 25 2007, 1:10am

Post #2 of 11 (97 views)
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So the Two Towers are Orthanc and Minas Tirith [In reply to] Can't Post

I had always assumed - as PJ did - that they were Orthanc and Barad-dur.

Tolkien was a stickler for detail and wanted his books to convey the image that he wanted to convey, which I think is religion-inspired fairy-tale. I can't say what about his covers, or his requirements, makes it feel this way, but it just does. Although the prominance of the Rings, especially the Three, in the Fellowship cover is interesting. I'm not sure what that is meant to portend...

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


drogo
Lorien


Mar 25 2007, 2:14am

Post #3 of 11 (122 views)
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The dust jacket image is Minas Morgul and Orthanc [In reply to] Can't Post

The nine rings and the crescent moon over the white tower indicate that; it's not Minas Tirith with the tiers and pier, etc.

Now in Letter #140 Tolkien lists all the possible candidates for the "two towers" (he left it ambiguous, never fully satisfied with the title):

"The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 & 4; and can be left ambiguous- it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dur, or to Minas Tirith and B; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol"

It really is never clear which pair of towers are ultimately referenced in the title.


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 25 2007, 2:03pm

Post #4 of 11 (88 views)
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Minas Morgul looks even more like a lighthouse [In reply to] Can't Post

than Barad-Dur does in the movies!

It does make it clear what Tolkien meant, though, when he wrote about the top part swivelling around:

"but the topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, first one way and then another, a huge ghostly head leering into the night."

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


drogo
Lorien


Mar 25 2007, 3:56pm

Post #5 of 11 (94 views)
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My answers, by drogo [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
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?


Tolkien's design stresses the conflict between the Elven rings and their bearers: Elrond, Galadriel, and most importantly (though we don't learn this till the end of the ROTK!), Gandalf. The three rings are hemming in the One Ring and, ultimately, the Eye of Sauron, like guard dogs circling a dangerous animal, but they are smaller and we are left wondering if they will succeed. The layout takes on great meaning for those who know the story already, for it emphasizes the struggle of Gandalf and Sauron with the two strongest High Elves bringing up the rear. Would a browser at a bookstore be able to get anything out of this? Probably not. As with much that Tolkien did, it is perhaps too private a code for people unfamiliar with the book to understand. It does help those of us who know the LOTR since it foregrounds the central conflicts, but it might be too creative for the uninitiated to interpret. (I will add that the version finally printed on the UK dust jacket narrows it down to to just Narya/Gandalf versus the One Ring/Sauron, making it harder to see the battle as including the Elves against the Dark Lord as well as the conflict between the two Maiar.)


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


Definitely!


Quote
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?


This jacket shows the winged Nazgul going to Orthanc from Minas Morgul, and also uses little emblems to represent the towers (the hand for Saruman, the nine rings and moon for Morgul) and has the One Ring in the center, the object of both Sauron's and Saruman's desire. This and the FOTR jacket are interesting because they show us how much Tolkien wants to render his story in significant images that can convey much of what happens to the reader. It's a little like the medieval tapestries that had a narrative function, showing key moments in myths and legends and using a symbolic code or semaphore to show who is who and communicate information to the reader. Again, it is a design that might baffle those who don't know the story, but it does take on great meaning to those who have (this jacket would have "locked in" the meaning of the "two towers"; I actually am glad it wasn't used since that would have kept us from all that speculation and debate, at least in part!).


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

Tolkien had his own design ideas but probably didn't want those color combinations. As for my copies, I have way too many to list, but my least favorite ones are the black with reddish and orange psychedelic splotches from the early Revised Edition Houghton Mifflin jackets. Those look like a lava lamp gone wrong, and the lettering sucks too. I have a number of the first edition Unwins with the whitish/light greyish jackets, though when they are exposed to sun they turn brown (they used rather poor paper in post-war Britain, alas).





Quote
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?


Tolkien was his own font designer, so he had a very clear sense of the lettering he would like to see for the Romanized version of his text.


Quote
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


I would have jumped on this in 1989, but for now I'll just say "pass."

:P


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)


drogo
Lorien


Mar 25 2007, 3:58pm

Post #6 of 11 (68 views)
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It reminds me of a chess piece / [In reply to] Can't Post

 


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 25 2007, 4:19pm

Post #7 of 11 (93 views)
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Elrond's ring... [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Tolkien's design stresses the conflict between the Elven rings and their bearers: Elrond, Galadriel, and most importantly (though we don't learn this till the end of the ROTK!), Gandalf.



...like Gandalf's, is not revealed to the reader until "The Grey Havens":


Quote
Elrond wore a mantle of grey and had a star upon his forehead, and a silver harp was in his hand, and upon his finger was a ring of gold with a great blue stone, Vilya, mightiest of the Three.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Detail from earliest version of Thror's MapTolkien Illustrated! Jan. 29-May 20: Visit the Reading Room to discuss art by John Howe, Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith and others, including Tolkien himself.

Mar. 19-25: Tolkien illustrates The Lord of the Rings


Morwen
Rohan


Mar 25 2007, 4:31pm

Post #8 of 11 (81 views)
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I wonder if that was intentional. [In reply to] Can't Post

The white and black tower do look very much like chess pieces facing each other across a board, although Minas Morgul and Orthanc weren't exactly on opposing teams.

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When she opened up the door
And looked me in the face
Like she never did before
I felt about as welcome
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FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 25 2007, 5:01pm

Post #9 of 11 (79 views)
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The quote you gave us from Letters [In reply to] Can't Post

interestingly enough, doesn't mention Minas Morgul at all.

"The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 & 4; and can be left ambiguous- it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dur, or to Minas Tirith and B; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol"

I believe that in early drafts Frodo's imprisonment was going to be in Minas Morgul, and that Cirith Ungol was a later idea (perhaps because Minas Morgul is too "supernatural" to work as a setting for Frodo and Sam's more realistic story?), so Minas Morgul doesn't play a large part in the story in the end.

But Minas Morgul is certainly a striking visual image, so I can see why he chose it for the cover art. I like your idea of a chess piece, especially with the opposing black and white. Perhaps it's surprising that, as Morwen points out, these towers don't actually represent the two opposing sides in the story, but when you think about it, all the main towers in the story have gone over to evil, except Minas Tirith which isn't really a tower as such.

The natural opposition, you'd think, would be between Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul as the Towers of the Sun and of the Moon, but visually that wouldn't have worked since both are white (and MT isn't really a tower!). I think graphic design considerations must have been more important here than representing the oppositions in the story. (I like the symbols of the towers though - a Ring for the tower of the Ring-wraiths, and a White Hand for Isengard.)

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


drogo
Lorien


Mar 25 2007, 6:40pm

Post #10 of 11 (93 views)
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It was Minas Morgul early on [In reply to] Can't Post

and only later did Tolkien introduce Cirith Ungol, so that would account for the Morgul tower in the illustration.

When I first read the book, I assumed it was Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul, though I know I didn't have any direct evidence and they don't really factor into the story in Books III and IV as such.


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 26 2007, 2:42pm

Post #11 of 11 (410 views)
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I love Tolkien's design concepts, although they generally look unfinished. [In reply to] Can't Post

For me, they work best when a professional artist helps finish the project based on Tolkien's design. On the other hand, there is something attractive about Tolkien's imperfections, since we can then trust that this is the work of the Author, imperfections and all.

Sauron is rather hard to make out on the cover you have shown us; I believe I have seen lighter versions. I'm always amazed at how much he looks like an immense person, and how little he looks like an immense cloud. The text is much more ambiguous than the picture Tolkien drew, although putting Sauron in the dark background of the cover does obscure his picture a bit, even in better quality reproductions. Still, I think Tolkien was more willing to indulge in a bit of whimsy in his drawings than some of his illustrators are, except of course for the Brothers Hildebrandt, who, probably justly, receive a great deal of grief for their Disney-esque whimsy. Tolkien's vaguely human picture of Old Man Willow is one example of Tolkien's whimsy, and this illustration of Sauron, I judge, is another. I say this in particular because I have been looking at the illustrations by Alan Lee we will be discussing this week, which are, as far as I can tell, completely devoid of whimsy.

I love the way Tolkien's designs present a puzzle for the reader. This is not at all typical of professional book covers. It's the sort of thing that makes LotR a joy to read multiple times, for there are really countless puzzles within the book which can only be appreciated after multiple readings and close study. The major drawback of the cover for The Two Towers is that Tolkien was never really satisfied with his answer to the puzzle posed by the title. I have a feeling he chose these two towers for the cover because of the symmetry he could work into the design. Personally, I like this design for Orthanc the best of all of Tolkien's drawings, but it may be too smooth and conventionally tower-like to fit the description in the book. Again, that may have been influenced by Tolkien's desire for symmetry.

As for the choice of script, perhaps Tolkien thought it looked vaguely rune-like, since it is based on stone carvings. As for the influence of St. Perpetua's vision, I wouldn't be surprised if Tolkien knew the story and found it to his liking, since he was a devout Catholic and considered his mother a Catholic martyr. It's hard to say why he liked it, but I don't find it surprising that he had particular likes and dislikes when it came to fonts.

 
 

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