Lost Hobbit images get first showing

Unseen drawings by J R R Tolkien published this week throw new light on an old classic
  • @Paul_Bignell

Previously unseen illustrations produced for The Hobbit by its author, J R R Tolkien, will be published for the first time this week. The paintings and sketches, which were not used when the seminal children's novel came out in 1937, were recently discovered in the Bodleian Library, in Oxford.

The pen and ink drawings and a series of watercolours, three of which are reproduced here, were discovered by researchers in material bequeathed by the author's estate to the library in 1979.

They were looking for material to mark next year's 75th anniversary of Tolkien's second book. The illustrations, together with the long-awaited film version of the book due to appear in cinemas next year, are likely to stimulate renewed interest in The Hobbit.

Unlike the expensive special effects in the $500m (£315m) two-part film directed by Peter Jackson, Tolkien merely had pen and ink and a selection of watercolours at his disposal to bring his imaginary world of Middle Earth to life.

The images show how Tolkien took his distinctive style and developed it into the familiar illustrations that adorn the covers of his bestselling books. Experts say that when producing illustrations for The Hobbit, Tolkien borrowed heavily from those of an earlier book, Roverandom, which he wrote for his son Michael. The picture "The White Dragon Pursues Roverandom" bears a clear resemblance to "The Lonely Mountain" later used in The Hobbit.

Roverandom is a little-known novella written in 1925 by Tolkien, who had just lost his favourite toy dog. It follows the adventures of a young dog, Rover, who is turned into a toy by a wizard. However, it was always overshadowed by the success of The Hobbit and not published until 1998.

The new book of illustrations will feature more than a hundred sketches, drawings, paintings and maps.

David Brawn, of HarperCollins, said: "By the time The Hobbit was published, Tolkien was more than 40 years old, so he had spent a lot of his time painting and was an accomplished amateur artist. Tolkien's estate recently donated some money to the Bodleian and so the Tolkien holdings could be digitised and catalogued for the first time."