Sauron’s forces on the move
It’s Tolkien Month here on my website! A little odd considering I have been writing mostly erotica and horror, but my roots are in SF and Fantasy. Reading E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, a progenitor of Tolkien’s and a probable influence, has made me appreciate the good professor even more. Not that Eddison is bad, mind you — it’s that by reading his work that I was able to see the historical, literary context behind Tolkien’s, and the roots of modern fantasy itself. And like it or not, Tolkien certainly laid the groundwork.
Other Tolkien scholars have said what I could say 1000% better, so the point of me adding my two cents to the topic is not one of deep analysis. Rather, it’s a scrapbook that highlights what I like, have found, or find interesting about his work, and in particular his publishing history.
Let’s start with an appreciation of Tim Kirk, an artist who gave, in my opinion, one of the best Tolkien interpretations around, and whose vision I prefer over Alan Greene’s and John Howe’s. The orc army above is what I continue to see in my mind’s eye whenever I re-read the trilogy: greenish-skinned, hulking samurai striding out of the mist. I like the way Kirk has limited his palette and chosen to highlight the three figures at the left in detail, while the ones in the rear are more stylized, recalling the work of Barbara Remington’s 1960s Ballantine paperback covers, which I’ll highlight later — all streaming flags and surreal, elongated glaives.
This is by far my favorite Smaug. As a teen, I received this calendar containing Kirk’s artwork one Christmas and I remember trying to duplicate his Smaug again and again, to poor result. Again, the palette is limited to murky browns and purples, and the image is clear and iconic. Kirk cuts loose from the book in that Smaug is black, or dark maroon, rather than the red-gold creature of the book, but it’s very effective paired with the creature’s hypnotic, yellow-green eyes, which have side pupils that give him an otherworldly air. And I love the way he lightly yet possessively holds his front talons over the pile of treasure. It’s as if he’s sitting for a portrait.
Galadriel, Celeborn, and Frodo
I was not so fond of this picture as I was of Smaug’s, as Frodo looks unfinished, but again, it’s a good, iconic rendition with a limited palette, muted grays and lavenders contrasting with the more earthy browns of Frodo’s garb. Though described in the calendar as “fan art” these pictures were actually painted by Kirk as part of his Master’s Degree in illustration from California State University. Later he worked commercially, doing cover illustrations for DAW books, and founded his own design firm. In recent years, he served on the advisory board of The Museum of Pop Culture here in Seattle.
Gandalf arrives at Bag End
I find Kirk’s Gandalf the most wizardly, Gandalf-y Gandalf outside of Ian McKellan’s movie depiction. Frodo varies in appearance across the calendar, so taken as a whole the pics are less unified than they could have been, but I assume that since they were for a thesis, they were done over a long period of time and professional publication was not the goal.
Smaug attacks Rivertown
Again the town I see whenever I re-read The Hobbit, though the flying, glowing shadow does not seem to belong to the Smaug in the earlier pic — it seems more like a Nazgul. I like the rich forest greens and jades of the buildings and the yellow lights reflected in the water.
Two orcs on the march, perhaps conversing to pass the time. They are the book’s villains, yet, they seem oddly sympathetic here. They’re just a pair of grunts doing their job.
Frodo comes to the end of his journey
I always liked this pic as well. Frodo arrives at the Far Shores, a scene never depicted in the books, only told in postscript. He eagerly climbs up on the foremast to get a batter look. The mountains are green and lush, the city inviting, if a little R’lyeh looking. The domed building, in fact, reminds me a little of Florence cathedral. From here he passes into myth.