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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
JRRT Artist and Illustrator: Chap. 3: #4: Goblins, Bears, and a Whale

NZ Strider
Rivendell

Mar 15 2007, 9:03am

Post #1 of 17 (265 views)
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JRRT Artist and Illustrator: Chap. 3: #4: Goblins, Bears, and a Whale Can't Post

I’ll start with the whale. Below there should be Tolkien’s watercolour of the Mer-King’s gardens in “Roverandom”:



Note the whale -- called Uin: presumably the whale in Book of Lost Tales, chap. 5. Now in the sub-thread that Curious started in thread #3 (Mountains of the Moon) there is some good discussion by him, Drogo, and Daughter of Nienna on Tolkien as an amateur draughtsman who knew his limits. I pretty much agree with what they say. This particular watercoulour of Tolkien's, however, is rather ambitous: “The Gardens of the Mer-King’s Palace.”

Q.#1: What do people think of this watercolour as art?

(Squire -- you’ve subjected the Brothers Hildebrandt to some searing criticism [I’ve been reading the past threads, you see!]; what is your analysis of this one of Tolkien’s?)

My take (which please criticise!): The selections of colours (pale greens and blues) is suitably “watery,” and a blurriness such as one would expect under water is achieved.

As to composition: The whale is entering the picture at the upper left hand; that naturally guides the eye along a diagonal line through the brightly white plants and past the fish to the Mer-King’s palace -- which gives the picture its name. At the lower right hand a road begins which also leads the eye directly the palace. All the same, the palace still seems too much off-centre, but perhaps the focus is to be on the gardens? They aren’t exactly centred either, however, being mostly in the lower left quadrant of the painting. Here, things strike me as a little cluttered, although the sea-squirt (or whatever it is) in the foreground is charmingly executed. All in all, the composition could be better in the opinion of me who couldn’t draw to save my life.


Finally, this underwater scene stands, I think, alone in Tolkien’s work -- or have I missed something? -- for hardly any motif connects this painting to his others.

Q.#2: Do you think that this painting became more ambitious and perhaps even better (as a painting) than many of the others because Tolkien could not rely on motifs borrowed from other drawings and had to create everything fresh (from the octopus onwards)?



Now the goblins: Tolkien wrote much of goblins, but with the exception of several drawings for the Father Christmas letters he never drew any:


(Goblins are in the second panel from the top, with Father Christmas, Polar Bar, and Cave Bear inspecting cave paintings on the right side, with goblins lurking on the left: hints of Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves in the Misty Mountains? or of Gandalf and the Fellowship in Moria?)

Next:


(Polas Bear is throttling some goblins.)


Q.#3: These goblins are little, black, nasty things. How much do you think they have to do with the more fearsome orcs of the LotR and the Silmarillion? Or are these the more comical goblins from *The Hobbit*? Or should we view these goblins as fully separate from the rest of Tolkien’s work?



Finally, bears. Be forewarned, however, that here I don’t have a a question, just some difuse rambling. Tolkien worked his children’s teddy bears into the story Mr. Bliss. There are two pictures in which the bears appear, of which I’ve found no scans in the little time I’ve had to look -- sorry! In one of the drawings the bears are sitting at table in a hall which bears (ouch!) a remarkable resemblance to Beorn’s hall in *The Hobbit*:



Now, Beorn not only can turn into a bear, but his name in Old English even means “bear.” However, because of the bear’s strength, it’s also more or less a kenning or riddling circumlocution for “warrior” -- which eventually became the word’s other meaning. Moreover the word has a connexion with the greatest of English heroes, Beowulf, whose name is another kenning: literally, “bee-wolf” or “the one who robs bees (i.e. of their honey) like a wolf” i.e. “bear.” Finally, there exists an Icelandic saga, the Saga of Hrolf Kraki, which contains an analogous tale to Beowulf’s slaying of Grendel: here the hero is Bjarki or “Little Bear,” son of Bjorn (“Bear”) and Bera (“She-Bear”). Anyway, Beorn and his hall may have gotten their start as the Tolkien children’s teddies; and bears immediately suggest many Old English and Norse legends.


drogo
Lorien


Mar 15 2007, 12:56pm

Post #2 of 17 (99 views)
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A quick question re: Bros. H and Tolkien's visual style [In reply to] Can't Post

Quick aside here, NZ. Do you happen to have the analysis you wrote of the Hildebrandt's Healing of Eowyn (this was from your art series on Main around 2003). I was trying to conjure that up in the discussion, but couldn't dig it out--I can get RR posts back to 2000 now, but not Main. If you have it, would you mind reposting in the last of the Hildebrandt threads on this board for the benefit of those who didn't get to read it the first time?

http://newboards.theonering.net/...m.cgi?post=1018#1018

Thanks; since we can access older posts easily here, it would be great even if the painting in question appeared in one of the posts on the old board.



I like the Mer-king's gardens, though I can see elements of his Hobbit work (the coral ranges in the back look a little like his Misty Mountains, and the repetitive design elements are very much like the "graphic design" of the Hobbit dust jacket, etc.). It does look a little lopsided compositionally, and the fish doesn't really seem to fit in that position. I'll let squire and D of N comment on vanishing points, etc. (someday I will have to master the theory behind the visual arts!).

I love the goblins of Father Christmas, though they are more closely related to the Hobbit goblins than to the Orcs of the rest of the legendarium. The paintings are very structured and whimsical, but Tolkien's style is very well suited to such illustrations.


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)

(This post was edited by drogo on Mar 15 2007, 12:56pm)


squire
Valinor


Mar 15 2007, 1:07pm

Post #3 of 17 (123 views)
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"Like weeds and corals in a grotto of the sea" [In reply to] Can't Post

It's interesting to read the passage from Roverandom that this picture is supposed to illustrate:

All around the walls [of the palace] huge sea-trees grew, taller than the domes of the palace...The great indiarubber tree-trunks of the trees bent and swayed like grasses, and the shadow of their endless branches was thronged with goldfish, and silverfish, and redfish, [etc.]


Sounds like he was about to do another Elf-palace in the Woods, only underwater! But in fact the illustration has no "trees", but goes in another direction altogether. I wonder if he had ever published Roverandom, whether he would have reconciled his writing to his painting.

Anyway, let's put the book down and look at the picture.




I think you've caught the central elements of the composition: the white whale at the upper left starts a diagonal path for the eye via the light-colored corals, to the palace at center right; with a secondary path being the road to the palace at bottom right. And as you say, the palace is just a little too off center to be successful as the focus of the painting.

What I think happened is that Tolkien wanted to draw not just gardens, or the setting of the scene for this episode, but the actual journey of Roverandom (who is inside the whale, I believe) - down from the surface above, from left to right through the gardens, to the palace. The picture is not static in time, but portrays a sequence. We see Tolkien do the same thing in his Father Christmas paintings, only using tableaux instead of composition.

That is how he started. And then he got caught up, as he almost always did in this period, with decoration and embroidery. He is simply having fun, across great expanses of the picture. Look at the patterns on the sea floor on bottom left - pure wave forms. And the most distracting element in the entire picture is the strong blue, red-orange and mauve coral formation (or whatever) in center left, fronted by strong and sinuous tendrils of some frondy thing. "Contrast equals interest" is the rule I was taught in design school, and that includes color contrast and edge contrast. The eye is drawn to two places: that most colorful coral area, and the dark green-black background that sets off the palace roofline. The former distracts the eye from the whale; but the latter works at least to get the eye over to where the palace is.

The reason the picture works - and it is an attractive and interesting picture - is because it captures the essence not of fantasy, but of "fancy". Tolkien has enough skill and imagination to fill the picture with charming bits for the viewer to discover: that fish in the center with the red lipstick, the octopus, the sea-squirt (as you put it - first cousin to the Numenorean war helmet, I think, and why not?), the palace (nicely modeled, like porcelain as Hammond and Scull comment), and the whale. His delicacy with, and control of, his color remains admirable.

As for your suggestion of freedom from earlier motifs, I don't see it. What I see are his usual motifs translated with much imagination into an underwater scene. Those mountains in the back look awfully familiar in profile, aside from their stalagmitic edges. The road in the foreground, leading to the round door in the palace, is a variation on all his elf-palace pictures, with other parts that anticipate the Hobbiton drawing. The tendrils are first cousin to his Tree of Amalion and Grendel's Mere. And the corals are as much his usual pattern-play as any kind of rendering.

His water color technique remains one of filling in flat fields that depend on patterning and composition to suggest space, rather than wet-wash and subtraction to suggest light and wet blending to convey surface. He doesn't use the water color medium to convey the watery atmosphere, but why should he? One, it's extremely difficult to do technically, and two, this is "fancy", not reality. The most watery thing about this underwater picture is the way the further mountains disappear into the green gloom, and the waving in the currents of the three parallel seaweeds in the left center. The suggestion of water that he attempts by laying in those indistinct horizontal streaks doesn't really work well.

Tolkien was probably at the edge of his talent just controlling all the stuff going on here, and it's a real triumph for him that none of the picture seems "muddy" and that the compositional elements we noted at the beginning survived at all.




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


Wynnie
Rohan


Mar 15 2007, 2:20pm

Post #4 of 17 (85 views)
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focus on the gardens [In reply to] Can't Post

All the same, the palace still seems too much off-centre, but perhaps the focus is to be on the gardens?

Exactly! See also this thread from the Chapter 1 discussion for four portrayals of houses partially obscured, or pushed off center, by trees and gardens.

I think The Gardens of the Merking's Palace is beautiful. The colors and the sinuous lines are captivating, as well as the funny little imaginative details. For me, the path into the painting doesn't begin at the whale or the road; I start at what you've dubbed a sea-squirt, and follow its tentacles up.

The only other underwater view I can find -- and it's only partly underwater -- is this:


The Hills of the Morning, A & I frontispiece


Although this is a later work, it looks much more primitive to me.



Owlamoo
ink drawing by JRRT


Elizabeth
Valinor


Mar 15 2007, 4:29pm

Post #5 of 17 (87 views)
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The Sea King's palace looks like Magic Rocks to me. [In reply to] Can't Post

When I was a kid, you could buy a little package of these multi-colored pebbles. You took a fish bowl and filled it with water, and then dropped in the rocks. In the water they'd grow fragile and graceful 'stalagmites'. If you started some first, you could drop later rocks in on the growing towers to get layers. I don't know what they were chemically. Anyway, the result ended up looking much like the 'coral' growths in this picture.

I really like Tolkien's watercolors in general, and this one is my favorite for its delicate complexity.

Regarding the goblins, when I first read The Hobbit & LotR I stressed over trying to visualize goblins and orcs. Unfortunately, these pictures don't help much. The movies did a great job on this, IMO.




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


Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens


Mar 16 2007, 2:26am

Post #6 of 17 (96 views)
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Mer-King’s Gardens [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Some of your analysis of the composition I agree with. I would add and amend some things.

The first thing is that the subject of the piece is the "Gardens" of the Mer-King, not the palace which encompasses everything in the forefront. The direction of the eye pretty much zooms past the palace in a circular motion, which is OK because that is not the subject. The path of the eye — if it doesn't first get trapped inside that circular section heavy with detail (left lower corner under whale) — follows from the whale along a path created by the pale colors moving diagonally to the lower right, then continuing on without pause, with the addition of pale blue and pale greens alternating with the white, pinks and yellows now moving toward lower left past the lovely blue fish in the foreground. Then the eye is forced inside the circular shape where it gets trapped. It's lovely in there with lots to look at. But it's hard to escape it. All the same he makes good use of the borders of the image with the palace on the right, the octopus in the left, the blue fish in the foreground, the whale on top-left. Even though the top area is dark and vacant and kind of heavy, it offers welcome contrast and relief from detail; and serves to keep the viewer in the picture.

The circular movement of the eye is a positive element of the composition… so, are the delightful array of colors. I especially love the thin curvy lines. The enormous amount of detail is the kind of thing children love, at least I did. It offers a fanciful world for children to lose themselves in. Wouldn't it make a great mural for the kids room or bathroom.

No time for any more now…I'm trying to work on Alan Lee, my deadline is looming. I have to stop posting for a while I think… till I get this octopus in it cage. :-)

Art Gallery Revised, ORC pic of Hawaii friends, my drawings,
Aloha & Mahalo, Websites Directory

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


NZ Strider
Rivendell

Mar 16 2007, 8:25am

Post #7 of 17 (92 views)
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Posted, as requested, in the "Hildebrandt Parting Shot" thread. /nt [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 16 2007, 8:51am

Post #8 of 17 (80 views)
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I love your connection to the other garden pictures. [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 16 2007, 9:27am

Post #9 of 17 (92 views)
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As others have noted, I see compositional elements from other pictures. [In reply to] Can't Post

The coral mountains are a variation on Tolkien's usual pointy mountains, the path in the lower right is a variation on his usual road or path picture (path to Bag End, path to Rivendell, path to the Elfking's home, path to the Lonely Mountain), and the sea garden in the lower left is a variation on his garden pictures. But because this is a fanciful underwater scene, Tolkien lets his imagination run wild, and does not make any attempt at realism. Which is why the picture works, for me at least -- Tolkien is at his best when he abandons any attempt at realism.

Coral reefs don't look like gardens or mountains. This is really an above-water picture transferred underwater by the introduction of sea creatures and some sea weed. I'm not sure what that is hanging down from the top of the picture -- again it works as a design element but is not particularly realistic. And the whole picture seems far too bright for the bottom of the ocean -- again this is a variation on an above-water picture with the sun shining brightly in the sky.

Why in heaven's name does anyone need a path on the bottom of the ocean, when everyone swims to get where they are going? Why a roof and towers, when the visitors are as likely as not to come from above, and there is no rain? Although I like this picture, in some ways it exhibits a lack of imagination -- again, probably because of Tolkien's limitations as an artist. He drew a colorful and imaginative variation of what he knew how to draw, rather than something completely and utterly different from an above-water scene.

My favorite element of the picture are the most fanciful, like the creature in the bottom center with the impossibly-long strands curving through the picture, or the red-mouthed fish. I like the busy garden in total better than any one of the elements in it, which don't stand up to close scrutiny.

As usual, I judge that Tolkien had some trouble with perspective -- I can't quite tell how far away anything is, or how big anything is supposed to be. Everything interesting seems to be in the foreground, except for the whale and the palace. There seems to be too much distance between the garden in the foreground and the palace in the background, as if the Mer-King had to take a long trip to get to his gardens.

As usual, my assessment is that this is a great picture for an amateur, but is clearly the work of an amateur. I would be proud to draw it myself, but would expect more from a professional artist or illustrator.


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 16 2007, 9:49am

Post #10 of 17 (104 views)
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Oh, and about those black goblins (and the bears), [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm afraid those pictures of black goblins do nothing to deflect accusations of subliminal racism in Tolkien's depiction of orcs and goblins. Reverend had a theory that the Misty Mountain orcs, at least, were pale and white, because they were called maggots by the Uruk-hai and never saw the light of day. I'm afraid that was pretty slim evidence for what Tolkien had in mind, but I liked the theory because it could be true (i.e. it doesn't contradict anything in LotR), and would deflect accusations of subliminal racism. Unfortunately these pictures from the Father Christmas letters don't support that theory, unless we can assume that these goblins had nothing to do with the Misty Mountain goblins.

In the other thread I started I considered Bear as one of Tolkien's repeating images, but I'm not sure it appears in The Sil, or even in LotR, except by way of a brief reference to the Beornings. The Bear image reappears in Father Christmas and Mr. Bliss, but not so much in Middle-earth. I suppose Helm of Helm's Deep could resemble a bear in strength, and like Beowulf preferred fighting without weapons, but I don't recall any specific comparison to a bear. I think the image of a bear, or a bear-like man, has more to do with Beowulf than with Middle-earth as depicted in The Sil. Those images crept into The Hobbit through Beorn, and perhaps into LotR through the Rohirrim and Helm Hammerhand, but as far as I can recall don't appear in The Sil at all.

Oh, wait, how could I have forgotten Tulkas! There's the predecessor for both Helm and Beorn! Okay, maybe the Bear is only in The Hobbit, but the Bear-like Warrior who fights without weapons appears in the Sil as well.


(This post was edited by Curious on Mar 16 2007, 9:59am)


drogo
Lorien


Mar 16 2007, 11:52am

Post #11 of 17 (68 views)
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Thanks, and link [In reply to] Can't Post

http://newboards.theonering.net/...cgi?post=10212#10212


(Formerly drogo of the two names!)


squire
Valinor


Mar 16 2007, 2:48pm

Post #12 of 17 (74 views)
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I hope that we can see that repost at the Eiszmann discussion as well [In reply to] Can't Post

I'll save any remarks for then. Thanks NZS and also drogo for giving the new link.



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


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 16 2007, 3:35pm

Post #13 of 17 (81 views)
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"a great mural for the kids room or bathroom" [In reply to] Can't Post

Can you see this as a shower-curtain? I love that idea!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!"


NZ Strider
Rivendell

Mar 16 2007, 7:11pm

Post #14 of 17 (88 views)
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I'm looking forward to the discussion of Eiszmann. [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm glad that of the artists who aren't well published, she was selected for discussion. (Ezpeleta, though, is good for comic relief, I suppose... After all, in regard to which other artist's painting could the following, perfectly serious dialogue have taken place: (from memory of previous discussion)

A.: "Why does Arwen look like Cher?"
B.: "That's Arwen? I thought that was Aragorn."
A.: "Isn't Aragorn the one that looks like Don Knotts?"


Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens


Mar 16 2007, 10:29pm

Post #15 of 17 (72 views)
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Mr Bliss Links - two [In reply to] Can't Post

Mr Bliss Links

30 images on 3 pages for Mr Bliss; at War of the Ring
(page numger button at bottom far right, need to scroll)
http://www.warofthering.net/...mbnails.php?album=67

Tolkien World - 48 images on 1 page
that Russian site (not necessary to speak Russian)
http://64.233.179.104/...u%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Art Gallery Revised, ORC pic of Hawaii friends, my drawings,
Aloha & Mahalo, Websites Directory

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


diedye
Grey Havens


Mar 20 2007, 12:47am

Post #16 of 17 (52 views)
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Thanks for the links... [In reply to] Can't Post

I've been dying to get my hands on that book, but, alas, they don't sell it here anymore, not even in second-hand book shops. Frown



Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens


Mar 20 2007, 7:36pm

Post #17 of 17 (75 views)
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You're welcome / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Alan Lee Discussion week: starts March 25th in the Reading Room

Art Gallery Revised, ORC pic of Hawaii friends, my drawings,
Aloha & Mahalo, Websites Directory
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

 
 

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