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

squire
Valinor


Feb 25 2007, 6:18pm

Post #1 of 18 (505 views)
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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


Penthe
Gondor


Feb 25 2007, 11:17pm

Post #2 of 18 (222 views)
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Cover art [In reply to] Can't Post

The edition of the Hobbit with that illustration as cover art was certainly very enticing. Our edition was one of those mock-leather numbers with no picture which looked very swish, but I did covet the school library's paperback with the illustration.

In response to your question about what's wrong with Tolkien's description of the treasure, I would say nothing. I've always visualised a very magnificent hoard, both when Bilbo first sees it, and when the dwarves go down the passage and Thorin is looking for the Arkenstone. Each one of them focuses narrowly on one or two things, which has always given me the impression that there is much too much to take in at once.

The illustration actually tends to diminish the hoard for me a little in size at least, because I find it impossible to imagine Smaug as very huge from the picture. Quite apart from the size of Bilbo, the size of the armour and spears on the back wall indicate Smaug is not so large compared to a dwarf or a man. And the shapes roughly outlined on the treasure always suggested coins to me, which make Smaug not so big at all. It doesn't matter to me that he is not vast like Glaurung. His personality and aggression are scary, not his bulk.

For me the most wonderful thing about this picture is the warmth and glow of the colours. You can really see why a dragon would want to sit on a golden hoard, and you can really see why Thorin and even Bilbo would be consumed with dragonish thoughts. If Eustace Scrubb had happened upon this pile he might never have turned back into a real boy. This treasure looks rich and warm and delicious.


Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 25 2007, 11:27pm

Post #3 of 18 (222 views)
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That's our "Hobbit". [In reply to] Can't Post

A now old and battered copy of The Hobbit with that cover illustration was the very first item Mr Kimi and I bought together, way back when I was 15. So we're talking sentimental value here, which is out of the reach of cool analysis.

It's always nice to see it again.




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


Curious
Half-elven

Feb 25 2007, 11:42pm

Post #4 of 18 (244 views)
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Only for sentimental reasons? So you don't think much of the picture? [In reply to] Can't Post

Personally, with all its flaws, I think this is one of the most satisfying drawings of a dragon I have ever seen. Tolkien may not be a professional artist, but he had thought long and hard about dragons, and with his somewhat limited abilities drew a dragon that takes my breath away.

The dragon is skinny, like a snake with feet and wings. The wings are folded like a bat's. I cannot judge how large they are, but I can imagine that they are quite large -- almost large enough to make flight plausible. Drawing them folded helps maintain ambiguity about their true size, and thus helps me suspend disbelief. Many artists are better at drawing than Tolkien, but few, I would guess, have thought as much about how dragons "really" look.

The treasure is also an important part of this picture. It is the treasure, as much as the dragon, that takes Bilbo's breath away. It seems as if Smaug himself put this pile together as a bed, and may have been sleeping there for a hundred years or more -- long enough for his belly to become encrusted with jewels, and for men to doubt that he exists. How can this be?

In Morgoth's Ring Tolkien theorizes that Morgoth saturated gold with his evil taint. In contrast silver and pure running water are relatively free of that taint.

Although Tolkien does not say so in Morgoth's Ring, I believe mithril, like silver, is relatively free of Morgoth's taint. The Silmarils, and particularly the light within the Silmarils, is not only free of taint, but is hallowed by the Valar. The same would be true of light from the Sun and Moon, the fruit of the two trees, as well as Varda's stars. But in later Ages that light comes to earth through a kind of haze -- thus even the light in Lothlorien, where the haze is artificially kept at bay, seems cleaner.

Based on what Tolkien said about gold, Morgoth's taint, and the habits and lifestyle of dragons, I believe that dragons, by lying on piles of gold, actually draw sustenance from Morgoth's taint. If I am right about this, Smaug did not need to forage for food. During his long hibernation he fed on the evil contained in his golden bed. That's my UUT, anyway.

Who propped that ladder by the giant container of gold in the foreground? Presumably a dwarf, and not Smaug. So perhaps this was the dwarven treasure room, and Smaug simply gathered most of the gold in the center of his room for a bed, leaving some of the gold untouched.

I find it revealing that Tolkien made Bilbo too large and gave him boots. Although he tried to explain this later, I think Tolkien simply forgot the characteristics that distinguish hobbits from men, or did not think them important. I also think Tolkien tended to forget or gloss over those characteristics when he wrote The Hobbit and LotR, just as he quickly forgot about Gandalf's ridiculously-long eyebrows. Every once in a while Tolkien would remind us that the hobbits are short, but not all that often. And if I am not mistaken, we never hear about furry feet after the story has started.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 25 2007, 11:52pm

Post #5 of 18 (242 views)
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He called it "quite powerful and stunning" and a "great painting". [In reply to] Can't Post

It doesn't show up well, but the words "for sentimental reasons" in squire's post were a link to earlier warm comments he'd made on that painting.

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


a.s.
Valinor


Feb 26 2007, 12:06am

Post #6 of 18 (225 views)
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Smaug the worm [In reply to] Can't Post

This is either the first picture I ever saw of a dragon, or the only one I remembered after I saw it. All my life I've pictured dragons this way: whiplike, snakelike, "worm" like. Probably able to slither or crawl just as fast as he flies. I like his thin snaky body. Curious said it: this dragon looks real.

Later, as I got older and read things that referred to dragons as "worms" I thought: "uh huh. That's right."

I quite think Bilbo spoils the picture, though. I wish someone had influenced Tolkien to just paint out Bilbo and leave us with a picture of Smaug on his horde.

a.s.

"an seileachan"

Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worried 'bout 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


Wynnie
Rohan


Feb 26 2007, 12:20am

Post #7 of 18 (228 views)
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Smaug is in love [In reply to] Can't Post

It's clear how Smaug feels about his treasure, when you see the blissful look in his half-closed eyes, his forefoot planted firmly on the pile, his tail (entire body, really) curled lovingly around it. The picture is full of charming little details, but my eyes can't stay long away from that fascinating dragon.


Owlamoo
ink drawing by JRRT


squire
Valinor


Feb 26 2007, 12:34am

Post #8 of 18 (241 views)
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Great minds feed alike. [In reply to] Can't Post

See my response to question #7 in Beren IV's thread on the ecology of Dragons from last fall's RR thematic discussions.

As NEB noted, I meant that I like the Smaug painting the most of all the Hobbit illustrations, because I fell in love with it at about age four. That's sentiment. But I also think, as a grown up, that it is one of the two or three best illustrations in that book anyway. Its competitors are Hobbiton, Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves, and the Elvenking's Gate.



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


Penthe
Gondor


Feb 26 2007, 12:46am

Post #9 of 18 (203 views)
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And so are we [In reply to] Can't Post

When Tolkien draws Smaug like this, and writes about him so enthusiastically, is it any wonder that we all lost our hearts to the villain?

It's lucky Tolkien has also built a story where it's satisfying to have Smaug die, because otherwise it would be much too tempting to barrack for the dragon to win against the dwarves.


Beren IV
Gondor


Feb 26 2007, 12:57am

Post #10 of 18 (218 views)
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This is easily my favorite of Tolkien's drawings, [In reply to] Can't Post

now that I think about it. The painting is a little amateurish, as usual, but this is one scene in which Tolkien presents not only the setting but also the creature in a detail that allows us to envision being there. I would say that if there is one creature that Tolkien possessed skill in drawing or painting, it is Dragons, and understandably so: we are speaking of the man who brought Dragons to the table in the academic study of myth!

I'm not sure what to make of Curious' UUT, if only because I have my own preferences and likes about Dragons that disagree, possibly even with Tolkien's (e.g. Oriental and American Dragons are not always evil). But I love this painting: Tolkien actually shines out here, and it is realistic, as realistic as can be for any creature as mythical as a Dragon.

Question: what does the writing on the urns say? And why would it be in Elvish and not Dwarvish script?


a.s.
Valinor


Feb 26 2007, 11:27am

Post #11 of 18 (218 views)
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what do the runes say? [In reply to] Can't Post

on the jar in the front, with the ladder? Anyone know?

a.s.

"an seileachan"

Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worried 'bout 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


Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 26 2007, 8:01pm

Post #12 of 18 (206 views)
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From "Artist and Illustrator" [In reply to] Can't Post

describing this picture:

"The great jar at bottom left bears a curse against thieves written in the Elvish script tengwar."




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


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 26 2007, 8:24pm

Post #13 of 18 (203 views)
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There's more in The Annotated Hobbit. [In reply to] Can't Post

As noted here, according to p. 277 of Douglas A. Anderson’s The Annotated Hobbit, Revised and Expanded Edition, “the inscription reads: gold th (portion obscured by ladder) Thrain / accursed be the thief”.

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


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 26 2007, 9:53pm

Post #14 of 18 (206 views)
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And the two runes beneath [In reply to] Can't Post

are each just a thorn, the letter "TH". This can be seen in the runes used on Thror's Map, which do not correlate to the Angerthas.

The Tengwar on the jar, however, vary only slightly from that in the Appendices.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Still 'round the corner there may wait
A new road, or a secret gate...


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 26 2007, 10:31pm

Post #15 of 18 (184 views)
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Is the inscription in English? /nt [In reply to] Can't Post

 

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


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 27 2007, 12:45am

Post #16 of 18 (185 views)
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Yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

They are, letter-for-letter, Anderson's phrases.

I can make out:

g o/w l d - th _ _ _ - th r aii n

a k e r s t - d e - dh(e) - th ie f (the dot for the "i" is barely visible)

Tolkien may not yet have established the "d" and "b" letters, which are similar except for a line on the "b".

The "dh(e)", or dh with a lower extension, is used by Tolkien in the title page inscriptions of LotR for "the", so Anderson is assuming that it means the same here.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Still 'round the corner there may wait
A new road, or a secret gate...


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 27 2007, 1:44am

Post #17 of 18 (198 views)
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Dem bones ain't gonna rise again [In reply to] Can't Post

I love this picture. I love the magnificent serpentine dragon and the little details around the room. The leftover skulls and bones add to Smaug's nefarious character.

I think Tolkien is not condemning his ability to draw dragons when he made that statement about himself being one who "obviously cannot draw what he sees.” Rather, he's making a jab at "modern" artists, I'm assuming he means cubism and other non-literal art forms, where he feels that "those who can draw try to conceal it", that is, they can draw what they see, but choose not to.

Is Erebor really having an eruption in the background of "Death of Smaug", or is that the fortuitous effect of Tolkien's shading?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Still 'round the corner there may wait
A new road, or a secret gate...


Owlyross
Rohan


Feb 27 2007, 10:45am

Post #18 of 18 (233 views)
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Hmm [In reply to] Can't Post

This is my favorite Hobbit illustration, for sentimental reasons. What do you think of it?
Did Bilbo bring the ladder? It seems odd that there's a ladder there, but I suppose the Dwarves could have used it to fill those giant amphoras. I like the touch of the armour on the wall, hints that this wasn't a dragon lair but a Dwarven hall. Where did the bats come from?


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?
I think what he wrote was more powerful. The mound of gold and gems, enough to accommodate a dragon, enough so the dragon has a coat of gems and rubies. That's impressive.

I quite like the picture of Smaug dying, but as someone who doesn't like to see a piece of work go out (especially into print) without it being as good as it can be I can understand Tolkien's frustrations at H&S using the picture on the cover, of all places!


"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
Benjamin Franklin
The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.
Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797)

 
 

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