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


Feb 25 2007, 5:30am

Post #1 of 7 (1664 views)
**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – The Lonely Mountain** Can't Post

After a successful R&R at Lake Town, the Hobbit and the Dwarves head for the Lonely Mountain and a confrontation with Smaug.

From The Hobbit, Chapter XI, ‘On the Doorstep”:
The Mountain lay dark and silent before them and ever higher above them. They made their first camp on the western side of the great southern spur, which ended in a height called Ravenhill. On this there had been an old watch-post; but they dared not climb it yet, it was too exposed.
Thorin sent out a scouting expedition to spy out the land to the South where the Front Gate stood.They marched under the grey and silent cliffs to the feet of Ravenhill. There the river, after winding a wide loop over the valley of Dale, turned from the Mountain on its road to the Lake, flowing swift and noisily. Its bank was bare and rocky, tall and steep above the stream; and gazing out from it over the narrow water, foaming and splashing among many boulders, they could see in the wide valley shadowed by the Mountain's arms the grey ruins of ancient houses, towers, and walls.
They did not dare to follow the river much further towards the Gate; but they went on beyond the end of the southern spur, until lying hidden behind a rock they could look out and see the dark cavernous opening in a great cliff-wall between the arms of the Mountain. Out of it the waters of the Running River sprang; and out of it too there came a steam and a dark smoke. Nothing moved in the waste, save the vapour and the water, and every now and again a black and ominous crow. The only sound was the sound of the stony water, and every now and again the harsh croak of a bird.
They moved their camp then to a long valley, narrower than the great dale in the South where the Gates of the river stood, and walled with lower spurs of the Mountain. Two of these here thrust forward west from the main mass in long steep-sided ridges that fell ever downwards towards the plain.

Tolkien seems to have had a clear idea of the mountain’s layout from the beginning, judging by this keyed sketch, showing all the primary foci of the action. (We discussed the map portion of this drawing in the last thread.)

128. The Lonely Mountain and map of the Long Lake
Click here for a larger view of the Mountain only.

Do his notes help you understand the story better?

Having imagined the mountain he zoomed in and produced the illustration for this chapter, showing the view that the scouting Dwarves and Bilbo get of the Front Gate:

130. The Front Gate (published in The Hobbit)
Click here for a larger view.

Hammond and Scull declare that this is Tolkien’s “least successful” finished illustration. Do you agree? What’s wrong with it, if anything?

Was Tolkien trying to achieve something besides a graphically interesting landscape? Is there any symbolism or illustrative coding here that might explain its complex and busy style?

The editors also helpfully include as an inset a sketch of a “gnarled tree” that Tolkien had done several years earlier for a Silmarillion scene, showing how he recycled it into the foreground of this drawing.

129. Untitled (Gnarled Tree)
Click here for a larger view.

Does this remind you of anything? How does it fit into all the different ways we’ve seen Tolkien draw trees so far?

Just as with Lake Town, it seems another artist has “colorized” the Front Gate drawing.

130A. The Front Gate (colored by another artist)
Click here for a larger view.

Again, does this work? What decisions must a colorist make that Tolkien working in black & white didn’t have to?
Silently, clinging to the rocky wall on their right, they went in single file along the ledge, till the wall opened and they turned into a little steep-walled bay, grassy-floored, still and quiet. Its entrance which they had found could not be seen from below because of the overhang of the cliff, nor from further off because it was so small that it looked like a dark crack and no more. It was not a cave and was open to the sky above; but at its inner end a flat wall rose up that in the lower I part, close to the ground, was as smooth and upright as mason's work, but without a joint or crevice to be seen.
No sign was there of post or lintel or threshold, nor any sign of bar or bolt or key-hole; yet they did not doubt that they had found the door at last.
[They] tried without resting to discover where exactly in the smooth face of the rock the door was hidden. They had brought picks and tools of many sorts from Lake-town, and at first they tried to use these. But when they struck the stone the handles splintered and jarred their arms cruelly, and the steel heads broke or bent like lead. Mining work, they saw clearly was no good against the magic that had shut this door; and they grew terrified, too, of the echoing noise.
Bilbo found sitting on the doorstep lonesome and wearisome-there was not a doorstep, of course, really, but they used to call the little grassy space between the wall and the opening the "doorstep" in fun, remembering Bilbo's words long ago at the unexpected party in his hobbit-hole, when he said they could sit on the doorstep till they thought of something. And sit and think they did, or wandered aimlessly about, and glummer and glummer they became.

Tolkien attempted to make a “paired” illustration for this chapter, showing the Dwarves at work investigating the Back Door while Bilbo sits and thinks.

131. The Back Door
Click here for a larger view.

How does Tolkien’s sketch work as an illustration?

Should he have completed it? Why didn’t he? What contrasts does Tolkien make between this Back Gate Door and The Front Gate?

Tolkien tried repeatedly to draw not just the close-ups of the Front Gate and Back Door, but the Lonely Mountain entire, including Ravenhill and Dale, with Smaug flying about it. Hammond and Scull give us two preliminary efforts, and one that is quite obviously finished and ready for publication:

134. Untitled (Smaug Flies Around the Lonely Mountain)
Click here for a larger view.

135. The Front Door
Click here for a larger view.

136. The Lonely Mountain
Click here for a larger view.

The big change that Hammond and Scull point out is the river, where Tolkien adds a giant bend to go past Dale. Why bother?

What other changes do you note? The forms in question seem very similar, but the graphic treatments are quite different. How so?

Tolkien generally turns night scenes into day when he illustrates them, here he starts in the day but changes to night. Why the change from day to night?

Should 136 The Lonely Mountain been included in the book, as it seems Tolkien intended from the finished quality of it, instead of or along with 130 The Front Gate?

How does the entire view of the mountain change from the initial story-sketch (128) to the final one (136)?

In this entire section, how would you characterize Tolkien’s understanding of landforms, and their graphic representation?

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

Beren IV

Feb 25 2007, 7:09am

Post #2 of 7 (1382 views)
How many volcanoes does it take to house a Dragon? [In reply to] Can't Post

I will make more detailed comments later, because I can (I love these new boards!). However, why does Erebor look volcanic? There is a perfectly good explanation of why there is fire underneath, and it isn't geothermal!

Or, perhaps, is the volcanic nature of the mountain the reason why Smaug came there in the first place, and not for the treasure at all?

Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 25 2007, 7:45am

Post #3 of 7 (1379 views)
Treebeard goes undercover? [In reply to] Can't Post

That tree looks rather Entish to me.

Promises to Keep: a novel set in 19th Century New Zealand.

The Passing of Mistress Rose

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View


Feb 25 2007, 8:05am

Post #4 of 7 (1382 views)
The Front Gate (to the Los Angeles Subway) [In reply to] Can't Post

Lowest mural

Upper mural and part of mid-level mural

The two photos above (click on them for larger versions, if I did it right) are of murals looming over the stairs and escalators at the entrance to the North Hollywood subway station tunnel in Los Angeles. The top one (which is deepest underground at the station) in particular reminds me of Tolkien's illustration The Front Gate, although I can't quite put my finger on why (at least, not in public). Tolkien's No. 130, particularly in black and white, whether or not successful as an illustration, seems quite expressive of a fear (or, at least, unease) associated with the approach (return?) through the gushing, churning water to the warm darkness where the dragon awaits.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Feb 25 2007, 1:30pm

Post #5 of 7 (1374 views)
What it really looks like in medical terms [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To

The top one (which is deepest underground at the station) in particular reminds me of Tolkien's illustration The Front Gate, although I can't quite put my finger on why (at least, not in public). Tolkien's No. 130, particularly in black and white, whether or not successful as an illustration, seems quite expressive of a fear (or, at least, unease) associated with the approach (return?) through the gushing, churning water to the warm darkness where the dragon awaits.

Well, I'll say it: #130 looks like a bird's eye view of female anatomy, like the mountain is about to give birth. Believe me, I've seen that position from a bird's eye view!


Be that as it may, it's just not a very successful illustration, at least for me. All the different stiations and circles are confusing and seem to DETRACT from understanding the topography illustrated. Especially the flattened ovals stacked on top of the, well, the symphysis pubis there. What are they supposed to be?


"an seileachan"

Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worried where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
No one knows for certain, and so it's all the same to me:
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
~~~~Iris DeMent


Feb 25 2007, 2:16pm

Post #6 of 7 (1358 views)
As in his pictures of Rivendell and the Misty Mountains, Tolkien is inconsistent [In reply to] Can't Post

about the layering of his rock, with horizontal layering next to vertical layering. Also, layered rock seems inconsistent with the cone-shaped peaks Tolkien favors, which seem more volcanic in origin. This is especially true of the Lonely Mountain, since lonely mountains like Shasta and Fuji are often volcanic in origin.

In the published drawing Tolkien adds to the layering effect by making some of the rock black and other rock white. This just draws attention to the odd layering. Furthermore the black rock is the same shade as the black river, which makes it difficult to distinguish the rock from the water. The colored version helps clear up this problem, since the water is tinted blue.

I like the last version of the Lonely Mountain better than the published version because the layering is more consistent, although the layering is still problematic, especially to the left of the picture where the hill looks like an igloo. Is that the "secret" door in that hill? If so, it doesn't look very secret. And that entry seems a very long way from the heart of the mountain.

I like the original sketch of the mountain better in some ways. It seems more natural. It also seems less volcanic. I don't mind the idea of the Lonely Mountain looking volcanic, though, especially since it gives skeptics an alternative explanation for what "really " happened to the mountain. But if the mountain is supposed to look volcanic, it should not have so much layering, I judge.

The published drawing of the mountain does give us some important information, i.e. it shows the continued devastation around the mountain, the main entrance, and the water and steam coming out of the entrance. The last version of the mountain, apparently meant for publication, gives us even more information. Indeed it is half map, half drawing. On the other hand all of that information is also available in the text.

I would agree that this is not my favorite drawing, but in part that is because it is supposed to be an ugly scene. On the other hand Tolkien's drawing of the passage through the Misty Mountains did much a better job of making a scary, rocky, barren scene still beautiful.

Luthien Rising

Feb 25 2007, 9:50pm

Post #7 of 7 (1426 views)
landscape as land-form [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien's landforms are idealized, formal, architectural. We can easily call them "non-naturalistic," or "non-representative" -- they do not match the Romantic irregularity of landscape that we have chosen as our frame today, in all media, for the representation of landscape. We have come to think of landscape as inherently irregular, inherently disrupted. Tolkien's view of landscape is through more Platonic eyes: these are our ideas of mountains, our ideas of winding roads, our ideas of gnarled trees. In a perspective that sees the physical world as fallen, however, these may be conceived of as more true, or as closer to the truth of landscape. (Not that we have to agree, of course, that this is truer landscape!)

In Reply To

In this entire section, how would you characterize Tolkien’s understanding of landforms, and their graphic representation?

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.


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