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


Feb 20 2007, 6:15am

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**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – Mirkwood** Can't Post

The Dwarves and the Hobbit, equipped by Beorn but abandoned by Gandalf, enter the great forest of Mirkwood, which they must pass through to get to the Lonely Mountain.

From The Hobbit, Chapter VIII, ‘Flies and Spiders’:
By the afternoon they had reached the eaves of Mirkwood, and were resting almost beneath the great overhanging boughs of its outer trees. Their trunks were huge and gnarled, their branches twisted, their leaves were dark and long. Ivy grew on them and trailed along the ground.

88. Mirkwood (published first British edition only)
Click here for a larger view.

Tolkien’s illustration of Mirkwood was in black and white, but done with washes, which required a half-tone glossy plate. It was the only plate in the first British edition; all the other illustrations were the pen-and-ink black-and-whites, including the black-and-white version of Hobbiton.

For the simultaneous and better-funded American publishers’ edition, to prevent their using their own illustrator, Tolkien prepared color paintings (we’ve already looked at Hobbiton, Rivendell and the Eagle) over the 1937 summer vacation. The British publisher, seeing their first edition sell out and with Christmas coming, grabbed these also for their pricier second edition; but they dropped the Mirkwood plate, which thus only appears in the first British edition.

Do you think this picture should have been kept in The Hobbit?

How closely does the illustration match Tolkien’s writing about Mirkwood? What is right or wrong about it?

How does Tolkien use line vs. tone to get the effect he wants?

If you were buying a Hobbit for a young reader, would you seek out one of the facsimile editions with Tolkien’s illustrations, or would you go for one of the more modern ones, say Alan Lee’s?

They walked in single file. The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks. Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind, and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while all the trees leaned over them and listened. As theft eyes became used to the dimness they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer. Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them. But this was seldom, and it soon ceased altogether.

”88A”. Mirkwood (American rendering from Tolkien’s illustration)
Click here for a larger view.

Once the Americans had chosen four of Tolkien’s colorful paintings for the plates, they had another artist redraw the Mirkwood wash painting, substituting pen-and-ink hatching for the half-tones, which allowed it to be printed on the regular pages like the other black-and-white illustrations. However, in more recent postwar reprints of the American The Hobbit, even the black-and-white Mirkwood is omitted.
Hammond and Scull do not show the American ink-line version, but I own it and scanned it at one point for a Letters discussion, so we can look at it too.

Any noticeable differences? How did the American illustrator achieve so close a copy?

Which is the superior work of art?

Where is the spider?

There were queer noises too, grunts, scufflings, and hurryings in the undergrowth, and among the leaves that lay piled endlessly thick in places on the forest-floor; but what made the noises he could not see. The nastiest things they saw were the cobwebs: dark dense cobwebs with threads extraordinarily thick, often stretched from tree to tree, or tangled in the lower branches on either side of them.
. . .
But they had to go on and on, long after they were sick for a sight of the sun and of the sky, and longed for the feel of wind on their faces. There was no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly still and dark and stuffy.

54. Tur-na-fúin (published only in 1974 Tolkien calendar as Fangorn.)
Click here for a larger view.

Finally, at the risk of treading on Saelind’s toes, I’ll throw in the “earlier version” of Mirkwood. “Earlier” in quotes, because it is also the “later version”!

Tolkien had painted this one in 1928 to illustrate a scene from a Silmarillion adventure, where Túrin rescues the Elf Flinding (later Gwindor) in the First Age version of Mirkwood, which in Elvish is Taur-na-Fúin. You can see Túrin on the ground at lower left, but it’s hard to see Flinding lying under the right-hand root of the big center tree. Tolkien offered this as a colored plate for The Hobbit, though he admitted the presence of the two heroes complicated things – and in the end he redrew it in ink and wash, as above. But much later at the end of his life he agreed to let it stand for Fangorn Forest in the first J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar for 1974.

From The Children of Hurin:
There greyly loomed of girth unguessed
In growth of ages the topless trunks
Of trees enchanted

From The Tale of Turambar:
[Taur-na-Fuin is] a dark and perilous region so thick with pines of giant growth that none but the goblins might find a track, having eyes that pierced the deepest gloom.

From The Two Towers (on Fangorn Forest):
'Yes, it is all very dim, and stuffy, in here,' said Pippin. . . . Look at all those weeping, trailing, beards and whiskers of lichen! And most of the trees seem to be half covered with ragged dry leaves that have never fallen. Untidy. I can't imagine what spring would look like here, if it ever comes; still less a spring-cleaning.'
'But the Sun at any rate must peep in sometimes.' said Merry. 'It does not look or feel at all like Bilbo's description of Mirkwood. That was all dark and black, and the home of dark black things. This is just dim, and frightfully tree-ish. You can't imagine "animals" living here at all, or staying for long.'

What changes did Tolkien make in adapting this for his Mirkwood illustration for The Hobbit?

Does the addition of figures give you a satisfactory sense of scale?

Does this painting work best for Taur-na-Fuin, Mirkwood, or Fangorn? How?

Since Tolkien says explicitly that Fangorn does not feel like Mirkwood, why would he allow essentially the same picture to stand for both?

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

(This post was edited by squire on Feb 20 2007, 6:18am)

Subject User Time
**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – Mirkwood** squire Send a private message to squire Feb 20 2007, 6:15am
    mushroom people a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Feb 20 2007, 11:46am
        Aren't the trees in Mirkwood quite huge? Draupne Send a private message to Draupne Feb 20 2007, 7:43pm
            so the mushrooms really are big? a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Feb 21 2007, 10:57am
                Cods burp Draupne Send a private message to Draupne Feb 21 2007, 8:48pm
            Hmmm, those big mushrooms drogo Send a private message to drogo Feb 21 2007, 12:14pm
    Mirkwood, Fangorn, Taur-na-Fuin, it's all trees drogo Send a private message to drogo Feb 20 2007, 12:09pm
        I had thought the "stars" dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Feb 22 2007, 4:27am
    Tolkien prefers the stylized FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Feb 20 2007, 5:19pm
    nice trees Finding Frodo Send a private message to Finding Frodo Feb 21 2007, 3:11am
    It really doesn't match my vision of Mirkwood Ainu Laire Send a private message to Ainu Laire Feb 21 2007, 5:58am
        Totally agree about Lee. Aerin Send a private message to Aerin Feb 21 2007, 6:12am
        Lee's forest drogo Send a private message to drogo Feb 21 2007, 11:08am
    twisty vines and branches Daughter of Nienna Send a private message to Daughter of Nienna Feb 21 2007, 8:49pm
    Those three are the same image! Beren IV Send a private message to Beren IV Feb 22 2007, 12:50am
    Tolkien didn't know much about real forests, I would guess. Curious Send a private message to Curious Feb 22 2007, 2:31am
        I suspect he didn't care much FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Feb 22 2007, 11:03am
    "I do not care" - from an author secure in his authority squire Send a private message to squire Dec 28 2007, 11:43pm
        Túrin never rescues Gwindor in Taur-nu-Fuin. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Dec 29 2007, 3:57am
            Two points to NEB. dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Dec 29 2007, 4:13am


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