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**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – Smaug**


Feb 25 2007, 6:18pm

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

Having found the hidden back door, the Hobbit descends to Smaug’s lair, and in two separate visits burgles some treasure and matches wits with the dragon. Tolkien’s painting of the latter scene is informed by his description in the former scene:

From The Hobbit, Chapter XII, ‘Inside Information”:
There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber. Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light.
Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed. Behind him where the walls were nearest could dimly be seen coats of mail, helms and axes, swords and spears hanging; and there in rows stood great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could not be guessed. To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.

133. Conversation with Smaug (published in The Hobbit)
Click here for a larger view.

This is my favorite Hobbit illustration, for sentimental reasons. What do you think of it?

Hammond and Scull say that Tolkien, since there were "no words left to express" Bilbo’s reaction to the dragon’s hoard, painted a picture instead. What is wrong with how Tolkien wrote about the treasure? Is the illustration really necessary, or just supplementary? How does his position here compare with the one he takes in "On Fairy-stories", regarding the use of language vs. illustration to represent the fantastic?

After The Hobbit was published, Tolkien used this painting to illustrate a slide lecture at Oxford on dragons, saying “This picture was made by my friend Mr Baggins or from his description”. Does this mean Tolkien was proud of this painting?

How does this final color plate compare with the other four?

What do you think of this version of Bilbo?

Since Tolkien wasn’t comfortable drawing figures or creatures, I wonder if this might not be his only character illustration good enough to command the respect of later artists. How have other illustrators responded to Tolkien’s idea of Smaug?

Tolkien also did a sketch of the death of Smaug in battle over Lake Town:

From The Hobbit, Chapter XIV, ‘Fire and Water”:
Back swirled the dragon. A sweep of his tail and the roof of the Great House crumbled and smashed down. Flames unquenchable sprang high into the night. Another swoop and another, and another house and then another sprang afire and fell; and still no arrow hindered Smaug or hurt him more than a fly from the marshes.
The dragon swooped once more lower than ever, and as he turned and dived down his belly glittered white with sparkling fires of gems in the moon-but not in one place. The great bow twanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide. In it smote and vanished, barb, shaft and feather, so fierce was its flight. With a shriek that deafened men, felled trees and split stone, Smaug shot spouting into the air, turned over and crashed down from on high in ruin.

137. Death of Smaug
Click here for a larger view.

Hammond and Scull relate that Tolkien did this just to “work out” the big death scene, but when he submitted it as a "guide" to help a professional illustrator get the scene right, Allen & Unwin used it on the cover of the 1966 paperback edition of The Hobbit.

Tolkien was annoyed. He called his colored-pencil and ink sketch a scrawl, “too much in the modern mode in which those who can draw try to conceal it. But perhaps there is a distinction between their productions and one by a man who obviously cannot draw what he sees.”

Why then did Allen & Unwin use it for cover art?

How in Tolkien’s mind does this sketch relate to Modern art in the twentieth century? Would he include the “unreal” work of Cor Blok in his condemnation?

Since Tolkien has never seen a dragon, why does he condemn himself for not being able to draw one to his own satisfaction? Or is that not what he’s talking about here?

In this picture we can see the Lonely Mountain in the distance, but not in the Lake Town series. Which do you prefer? (and why is the Lonely Mountain apparently erupting in sympathy with Smaug?)

Tolkien’s detailed painting of Smaug recumbent is not quite in the same world as his usual “flying dragon sketch”, which we’ve seen in the distance in the Lonely Mountain pictures, and will see again on his dust jacket painting. Here’s another version, just for completeness (and check out the marching dwarves!).

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

Subject User Time
**JRRT: Artist & Illustrator. The Hobbit, Part II – Smaug** squire Send a private message to squire Feb 25 2007, 6:18pm
    Cover art Penthe Send a private message to Penthe Feb 25 2007, 11:17pm
    That's our "Hobbit". Kimi Send a private message to Kimi Feb 25 2007, 11:27pm
    Only for sentimental reasons? So you don't think much of the picture? Curious Send a private message to Curious Feb 25 2007, 11:42pm
        He called it "quite powerful and stunning" and a "great painting". N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Feb 25 2007, 11:52pm
        Great minds feed alike. squire Send a private message to squire Feb 26 2007, 12:34am
    Smaug the worm a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Feb 26 2007, 12:06am
    Smaug is in love Wynnie Send a private message to Wynnie Feb 26 2007, 12:20am
        And so are we Penthe Send a private message to Penthe Feb 26 2007, 12:46am
    This is easily my favorite of Tolkien's drawings, Beren IV Send a private message to Beren IV Feb 26 2007, 12:57am
    what do the runes say? a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Feb 26 2007, 11:27am
        From "Artist and Illustrator" Kimi Send a private message to Kimi Feb 26 2007, 8:01pm
            There's more in The Annotated Hobbit. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Feb 26 2007, 8:24pm
                And the two runes beneath dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Feb 26 2007, 9:53pm
                    Is the inscription in English? /nt N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Feb 26 2007, 10:31pm
                        Yes. dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Feb 27 2007, 12:45am
    Dem bones ain't gonna rise again dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Feb 27 2007, 1:44am
    Hmm Owlyross Send a private message to Owlyross Feb 27 2007, 10:45am


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