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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – Beorn’s Hall**

squire
Valinor


Feb 19 2007, 7:39pm

Post #1 of 17 (1126 views)
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**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – Beorn’s Hall** Can't Post

Welcome to the second installment of the discussion of J. R. R. Tolkien’s illustrations for The Hobbit, as presented in Hammond and Scull’s book, J. R. R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator. Things will be a lot saner but a lot duller this week, and for that we have to thank drogo(_drogo) for his really excellent presentation on Tim and Dim (ah! I can call them that again, now that the truce of courtesy has passed).

We’ll pick up where N. E. Brigand left off three weeks ago. Gandalf, the Dwarves, and the Hobbit have been rescued by the Eagles, and make their way to the lands of Beorn, the shape-shifting Man/Bear.

I’ll give the text of the story as much as it relates to the illustrations, but I’m not going to add Hammond and Scull’s excellent commentary. But any comments from you, on my questions or anything else, are welcome!

From The Hobbit, Chapter VII, ‘Queer Lodgings’:
They soon came to a wooden gate, high and broad, beyond which they could see gardens and a cluster of low wooden buildings, some thatched and made of unshaped logs; barns, stables, sheds, and a long low wooden house.
. . .
Soon they reached a courtyard, three walls of which were formed by the wooden house and its two long wings. In the middle there was lying a great oak-trunk with many lopped branches beside it. Standing near was a huge man with a thick black beard and hair, and great bare arms and legs with knotted muscles. He was clothed in a tunic of wool down to his knees, and was leaning on a large axe.
. . .
"Then you had better come inside and tell me some of it, if it won't take all day," said the man leading the way through a dark door that opened out of the courtyard into the house.



114. Untitled (Interior of a Norse Hall) by E.V. Gordon
Click here for a larger view.



Hammond and Scull provide this print as the probable inspiration for Tolkien’s obvious use of a “Viking structure” for Beorn’s hall.
How does Gordon compare with Tolkien as an artist?

Following him they found themselves in a wide hall with a fire-place in the middle. Though it was summer there was a wood-fire burning and the smoke was rising to the blackened rafters in search of the way out through an opening in the roof. They passed through this dim hall, lit only by the fire and the hole above it, and came through another smaller door into a sort of veranda propped on wooden posts made of single tree-trunks. It faced south and was still warm and filled with the light of the westering sun which slanted into it, and fell golden on the garden full of flowers that came right up to the steps.

Here they sat on wooden benches while Gandalf began his tale, and Bilbo swung his dangling legs and looked at the flowers in the garden, wondering what their names could be, as he had never seen half of them before.


115. Firelight in Beorn’s House (preliminary drawing, not used)
Click here for a larger view.



Inside the hall it was now quite dark. Beorn clapped his hands, and in trotted four beautiful white ponies and several large long-bodied grey dogs. Beorn said something to them in a queer language like animal noises turned into talk. They went out again and soon came back carrying torches in their mouths, which they lit at the fire and stuck in low brackets on the pillars of the hall about the central hearth.

The dogs could stand on their hind-legs when they wished, and carry things with their fore-feet. Quickly they got out boards and trestles from the side walls and set them up near the fire.

Then baa-baa-baa! was heard, and in came some snow-white sheep led by a large coal-black ram. One bore a white cloth embroidered at the edges with figures of animals; others bore on their broad backs trays with bowls and platters and knives and wooden spoons, which the dogs took and quickly laid on the trestle tables. These were very low, low enough even for Bilbo to sit at comfortably. Beside them a pony pushed two low-seated benches with wide rush-bottoms and little short thick legs for Gandalf and Thorin, while at the far end he put Beorn's big black chair of the same sort (in which he sat with his great legs stuck far out under the table). These were all the chairs he had in his hall, and he probably had them low like the tables for the convenience of the wonderful animals that waited on him. What did the rest sit on? They were not forgotten. The other ponies came in rolling round drum-shaped sections of logs, smoothed and polished, and low enough even for Bilbo; so soon they were all seated at Beorn's table, and the hall had not seen such a gathering for many a year.



116. Beorn’s Hall (published illustration)
Click here for a larger view.



What changes did Tolkien make between his first sketch and the final one? Why?
What is present, and what is missing, from the illustration that is mentioned in the text?
Do the differences matter?
Would anyone like to criticize Tolkien’s use of perspective?

They spoke most of gold and silver and jewels and the making of things by smith-craft, and Beorn did not appear to care for such things: there were no things of gold or silver in his hall, and few save the knives were made of metal at all.

They sat long at the table with their wooden drinking-bowls filled with mead. The dark night came on outside. The fires in the middle of the hall were built with fresh logs and the torches were put out, and still they sat in the light of the dancing flames with the pillars of the house standing tall behind them, and dark at the top like trees of the forest. Whether it was magic or not, it seemed to Bilbo that he heard a sound like wind in the branches stirring in the rafters, and the hoot of owls.
. . .
Bilbo found that beds had already been laid at the side of the hall, on a sort of raised platform between the pillars and the outer wall. For him there was a little mattress of straw and woollen blankets. He snuggled into them very gladly, summertime though it was. The fire burned low and he fell asleep. Yet in the night he woke: the fire had now sunk to a few embers; the dwarves and Gandalf were all asleep, to judge by their breathing; a splash of white on the floor came from the high moon, which was peering down through the smoke-hole in the roof.


What other Halls in Tolkien’s work are similar to this one? Are there any that are dissimilar?



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 19 2007, 7:53pm

Post #2 of 17 (335 views)
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Tolkien's perspective. [In reply to] Can't Post

The line of the roof-peak in Beorn's Hall skews a little to the right of the floor, no?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.

Feb. 19-25: The Hobbit.


weyhoops
The Shire

Feb 19 2007, 9:01pm

Post #3 of 17 (292 views)
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missing things... [In reply to] Can't Post

I love the coziness and almost claustrophobic feel that JRRT accomplishes in this illustration. I want to snuggle up like Bilbo and sleep by the fire on the raised platform. However, since this is the table already set up with Dwarf/Bilbo seats, it'd be nice if he had also included Beorn's great chair and even Gandalf and Thorin's bench.


Elizabeth
Valinor


Feb 20 2007, 12:48am

Post #4 of 17 (263 views)
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It's unoccupied. [In reply to] Can't Post

No Beorn, no hobbit, no dwarves, no ponies, no dogs. It really looks pretty empty and somewhat forbidding, despite the fire. Of course, architecture is far easier to draw than creatures, and humanoid creatures hardest of all. As I've complained before (because it really bugs me), most Tolkien artists stumble when they include characters, so it's probably just as well the Professor didn't try.

I'm not sure why the fire pit is really a fire trench in both Tolkien's sketch and the Norse Hall. A pit seems a lot more practical.

A few years ago I visited a native settlement on a remote island in southeastern Alaska (a real one, not one of the numerous tourist "reconstructions" the big cruise ship passengers go to). It was actually very similar in concept, with fire pit and a raised stage at one end where the chief and his family used to sleep.




Queen Mary II approaching Honolulu harbor
February 9, 2007, 7:30 am


Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Beren IV
Gondor


Feb 20 2007, 1:16am

Post #5 of 17 (280 views)
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Who *are* the Beornings? [In reply to] Can't Post

The impression that I get of the Beornings is that they are indeed Viking-inspired, although without the ships, which were a very important part of Viking culture. Even Viking mythology is full of shapeshifters, and people who are conversant with beasts. I wonder of the extent to which Tolkien imagined that the Vikings are the Beornings' descendents, if we allow the conciet that the present day is the continuation of the Professor's 'discovered' prehistory.

Tolkien's art is less detailed than Gordon's, I would guess simply because Gordon perhaps put more time into it. But the grain of the wood is there in Gordon's drawing, which is absent in Tolkien. I am not sure I would call this an oversight on Tolkien's part - Tolkien certainly conveys exactly what he was imagining and in no uncertain terms with his sketches, and it's very effective. As such, I certainly can't criticize Tolkien's ability as an artist in these sketches: the imagination can easily fill in the little details.

More generally, much of Tolkien's architecture and a vast amount of his writing style is characterized by Norse inspiration, although often filtered by one or two levels. The Meduseld bears some similarities to Beorn's hall in its feel at least (I don't recall a description of the Meduseld for anything beyond that). This is hardly surprising given that the Rohirrim and the Beornings are both descendents of the ancient Northmen. The Men in the First Age also have the feeling of living in halls like this one, again the Edain in at least some conceptions are related to the Northmen, but Brodda and the Easterlings are not, despite the fact that Brodda's hall also has the feel of being very similar to this one. Even Thingol's hall has such underpinnings, although the underground cave-nature of Menegroth imposes certain constraints on its architecture that preclude it a classic Viking longhouse such as this one. Living in caves of course is another classic of Norse Myth, however. Thranduil's hall - obviously a lesser variant of Thingol's hall imported from the Silmarillion before Tolkien set to deeply intertwine his children's story and his epic mythos - also has some similarities to this, and one might presume that many of the elves that lived in houses lived in halls not unlike this one. The Galadhrim of course live on flets, and Hirilorn seems to have had a flet on it, so I would guess that Thingol's people also lived above ground as well as under it (perhaps a summer home in the flets and a winter home/fortress in the caves).

The description of Beorn's hall conveys a feeling of what I might call barbarian hospitality: it is crude, not a sophistocated dwelling in terms of its architecture and certainly there are more comfortable abodes, such as Bilbo's hole, but at the same time, it works, and it will work as home for the time that Bilbo and the Dwarves will stay in it for. Beorn does seem to have a reluctance to give his welcome, for reasons I am unsure of at the moment, but they are welcome for the time being at least. And Tolkien's artwork conveys all of this very well.

IMO, this is perhaps the "best" artwork of any that Tolkien ever did: it's simple, and above all, effective. What more can an artist hope for?


Aerin
Grey Havens


Feb 20 2007, 7:59am

Post #6 of 17 (244 views)
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Hi! [In reply to] Can't Post

Are you new here, or are you an oldbie who has adopted a new name! I may not be very good with names any more (if I ever was), but yours is new to me.


a.s.
Valinor


Feb 20 2007, 11:06am

Post #7 of 17 (251 views)
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the long view [In reply to] Can't Post

What changes did Tolkien make between his first sketch and the final one? Why?

Would anyone like to criticize Tolkien’s use of perspective?


The view is different between first and second sketch. In the first, I can't quite figure out what angle I'm looking at the central hall from, somewhere off to the left of center. What's that horizontal bar attached to, the roof? the side wall?

The second sketch I can at least tell I am looking down the long center of the hall. There is something odd about the perspective (I'm no artist, don't have the right words probably): the pillar-trees don't quite match up left to right, with the trees on my left more "visible" than on the right. I take it I am still standing a little to the left of center and gazing down the long hall. H&S say he "worked out" the perspective in preliminary sketches with "triangle and straightedge" so maybe it's just me.

But there is something disconcertingly LONG about that hall! Gordon's picture shows a much smaller place. In the second Tolkien sketch, that is one VERY long building, isn't it?

I like the tendrils of smokel; they don't look quite natural, more obviously "arty" or representative, rather than real. In fact, they add a kind of unreality to the whole drawing, and make it feel like we're back in the dark woods with the fire-lit clearing (picture with the trolls). Enhanced by the long row of "trees" (pillars), which feel like the woods.

But I like the second sketch much better than the first, except I can't quite figure out the tree tops holding up the roof...are the little branch-like structures just added for decor, for instance? They must be nailed on.

a.s.



"an seileachan"

The Lost Mod Power: An Elegy (with apologies to Wordsworth)

What though the mod power which was once so bright
Be now FOREVER taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the stats, of glory in the power,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.


drogo
Lorien


Feb 20 2007, 12:22pm

Post #8 of 17 (254 views)
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An Art Deco Mead-Hall? [In reply to] Can't Post

This is an interesting image in light of the earlier discussion on the old board (that parallel universe!) about Tolkien's passing interest in styles such as Art Deco and Expressionist jagged irregularity (the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-like images we discussed about 3 weeks ago). Here we see the ordered regularity of geometry, hence the hit of Art Deco design, but it manages to create a sense of comfort even in its stark emptiness.

Tolkien should have populated the hall to make it look less like a movie set, but since he has trouble with characters, it is perhaps better to leave this as a big, open hall.


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)


weyhoops
The Shire


Feb 20 2007, 2:37pm

Post #9 of 17 (232 views)
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Hi! [In reply to] Can't Post

I am not really new...I very rarely posted under my old name, Lord_Gwaihir. I am more of a lurker. But these new boards are inspiring me to become more active!

-bram


Luthien Rising
Lorien


Feb 20 2007, 10:25pm

Post #10 of 17 (218 views)
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empty buildings [In reply to] Can't Post

There is a very big difference between buildings seen empty (or with no figures in front of them, for exteriors) and buildings with people in them. One is scale: we are missing that here, but then again, it might not help unless we have a gut feeling for the size of scaling figures - and though we *know* something of the size of hobbits and dwarves and wizards and all, we don't have a *gut* feeling for their size like we do for our own.

Another, though, is in what we actually *see*. Last year I saw an exhibition that included a set of paired images of buildings, identical pairs in every way except the inclusion of people. A 19th-century building in one was really a *building* - you saw its structure, its material, its tangibility, its detail. With people in front of it (one walking by, two standing looking at a paper, I don't remember of what kind), it was *functional* - and *primarily* so: it became a place that people walk by, or leave, rather than something in itself.

So yes, it could just be leaving out things that are harder to draw. But it can also be making us *see* -- not see the life that happens *in* the building, but the context in which that life happens -- the long, open space crossed constantly by lines that are not actually barriers, etc., etc. (must go to work, or I'd blather on longer).



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.


a.s.
Valinor


Feb 21 2007, 1:00am

Post #11 of 17 (209 views)
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great! come by often [In reply to] Can't Post

always happy to see new people posting in the RR.

Smile

a.s.

"an seileachan"

The Lost Mod Power: An Elegy (with apologies to Wordsworth)

What though the mod power which was once so bright
Be now FOREVER taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the stats, of glory in the power,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.


linkin-artelf
Lorien


Feb 21 2007, 3:52am

Post #12 of 17 (207 views)
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the perspective is definitely off in that second Tolkien image [In reply to] Can't Post

but not terribly so. The table is off center and there seems to be a stool missing. Don't know what was intended by that. Overall it has a greater sense of space than the earlier one but I prefer the lowered point of view and the lighting of the first.
Gordon's work, (a drawing or print?) has greater ambiance and interest and seems more lived in despite having no people inside. The light is less glowing, more flickering in quality, like true firelight, and the setting is more intimate and close. Tolkien's images have a more reverent, lofty sense of space, similar to important Japanese structures.

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"I walk along the shore and I gaze
At the light that radiates down
Will it travel forth to you
Far across this shimmering sea?"
formerly linkinparkelf


Curious
Half-elven

Feb 21 2007, 7:06pm

Post #13 of 17 (233 views)
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Both Elrond's Hall of Fire and Theoden's Meduseld are similar to Beorn's dwelling. [In reply to] Can't Post

Meduseld, however, has rich tapestries along each side and elaborate carvings on the pillars. For all we know Elrond's Hall of Fire might have decorations as well, although they are not described. But both great halls have the came central hearth and the same pillars shown in Beorn's dwelling. I'm quite convinced Tolkien worked off the same model for all three halls.

That's easy to see with Meduseld, where Tolkien acknowledges the Anglo-Saxon influence, but perhaps more surprising in Rivendell. Tolkien glosses over his description of Rivendell, both in word and drawing, probably so that each reader could idealize it for him or herself. But based on the few words and drawings we have, I'm pretty sure Tolkien's own ideal was similar to an Anglo-Saxon hall -- although it was a hall filled with Elven music and poetry, which means Elven enchantment.

As far as Tolkien's own abilities as an illustrator, I've already commented that he was a talented amateur, who frequently plagiarized the drawings of better artists, and often had difficulty with perspective. But because he was the Author, I relish every clue he gave us about what Middle-earth "really" looked like, and in this case one picture gives us clues about three different locations in Middle-earth.


squire
Valinor


Feb 21 2007, 7:33pm

Post #14 of 17 (244 views)
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Rivendell can be thought of as Anglo-Saxon, not Art Nouveau. [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, I was thinking not Edoras, which is obvious, but of how Elrond's hall is described in these terms. It seems to pass over most readers' heads, and also most illustrators'. The most common Rivendell Hall of Fire images that I remember focus on a fireplace along one wall, rather like an English great hall from the 14th century or a more modern "living room". But here is how Tolkien puts it.

At length the feast came to an end. Elrond and Arwen rose and went down the hall, and the company followed them in due order. The doors were thrown open, and they went across a wide passage and through other doors, and came into a further hall. In it were no tables, but a bright fire was burning in a great hearth between the carven pillars upon either side...Suddenly [Frodo] noticed, not far from the further end of the fire, a small dark figure seated on a stool with his back propped against a pillar. (FotR, II, 1, "Many Meetings")

Interestingly, the House at Rivendell also has a "porch" - possibly like the one that Beorn hears Gandalf's tale on.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens


Feb 21 2007, 7:57pm

Post #15 of 17 (241 views)
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Late Perspective [In reply to] Can't Post

Q: What changes did Tolkien make between his first sketch and the final one? Why?
Q: Critique Tolkien’s use of perspective.

A: The two Tolkien drawings have different viewpoints. The second drawing has added a table. I would suppose that these changes have much to do with the story. The 2nd viewpoint shows more of the room and the added furniture shows more of what that the hobbits actually see, and how the room might be used. Also visible is the hole in the ceiling for the smoke. It is more inviting and enterable, although stark and bland.

Other differences: #1 (‘Firelight in Beorn’s House’): has bases on the vertical beams, the pit runs the entire length of the room, the table looks more like a bench on the other side of the room. #2 (Beorn’s Hall): is a font view, the table is moved in the foreground, with stoops to sit on. The pit is smaller, rectangular, and confined to the center,

The first drawing, has very interesting shapes and lines, but it is very confused. Those horizontal beams block entry into the room and therefore entry into the image as a viewer; and there is no clear purpose for them.

The perspectives of each drawing have very different vanishing points.
#1 The first: to find the vanishing point, I followed two lines on the opposite side of the room: the line where the floor and wall meet, and the line where the ceiling beams and supporting beams join a receding horizontal beam.
off the right edge. Those two lines join at a vanishing point that is off the image to the right.
I had to work hard to figure out large black triangular shape if is really a beam of just a blacked out area. If it is a beam, it is confusing: the angle of it, and where it seem to fall below the vanishing point and collide with the floor. Nor does it seem to fit in the room. It is too black. Too filled in, and looks nothing like the beams on the other side.

#2: the second: The vanishing point is on the page, but not directly in the middle, thank goodness. It is at the small door at the back, where Beorn is leading the hobbits to. All the lines meet at this door, with no confusing horizontal lines, and the ceiling beams are clearly described.

The composition of #1 guides the viewer out of the image and right out of the story. The composition of #2 guides viewer into the room to the door in the back.

Q: What other Halls in Tolkien’s work are similar to this one?
A: The two similar Halls that come to mind first: Théoden’s Hall, and sort of, Hall of Fire at Rivendell. (Sil is too distant a memory)

Q: Are there any that are dissimilar?
A: Denethor’s Hall. Bilbo’s Hall

Q: What is present, and what is missing, from the illustration that is mentioned in the text? Q: Do the differences matter?
A: The people and animals are missing. In some way it matters because it is rather uninteresting to just see a barren room. Yet, with this image, the reader can see exactly what this room looks like. I couldn’t visualize it when reading the Hobbit in 1973, because I had never seen a room like that. I suspect that this is as interesting to Tolkien as landscapes are. But beyond its relevance to the story, it is not an interesting picture.

Websites Directory, my drawings,Aloha & Mahalo


Nienna: “ those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope . . . All those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom." — Valaquenta


a.s.
Valinor


Feb 22 2007, 1:23am

Post #16 of 17 (213 views)
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a central hearth does make sense [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Yes, I was thinking not Edoras, which is obvious, but of how Elrond's hall is described in these terms. It seems to pass over most readers' heads, and also most illustrators'. The most common Rivendell Hall of Fire images that I remember focus on a fireplace along one wall, rather like an English great hall from the 14th century or a more modern "living room". But here is how Tolkien puts it.

At length the feast came to an end. Elrond and Arwen rose and went down the hall, and the company followed them in due order. The doors were thrown open, and they went across a wide passage and through other doors, and came into a further hall. In it were no tables, but a bright fire was burning in a great hearth between the carven pillars upon either side...Suddenly [Frodo] noticed, not far from the further end of the fire, a small dark figure seated on a stool with his back propped against a pillar. (FotR, II, 1, "Many Meetings")


I had always rather imagined a traditional hearth on a wall, as you say most images show. Even the "between the carven pillars on either side" still brought to mind just two great pillars standing to the right and left of the big hearth. But now that I consider it in light of the Beorn picture, I think you two are right. This makes more sense when Frodo says Bilbo is on the further end of the fire. I always assumed Frodo was looking at the hearth from off to one side (when I stopped to consider it) but the Beornic model is a much better fit here. a.s.

"an seileachan"

The Lost Mod Power: An Elegy (with apologies to Wordsworth)

What though the mod power which was once so bright
Be now FOREVER taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the stats, of glory in the power,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.


Aerin
Grey Havens


Feb 23 2007, 5:32am

Post #17 of 17 (581 views)
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Nice! / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

 
 

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