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The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien’s illustrations for The Lord of the Rings were not created with publication in mind but were an intimate part of the creative process. Predominantly cartographical or topographical in nature, they helped him to visualize scenes and places more clearly as he wrote the text.

These are the words that appear on the One Ring when it is exposed to fire. The beautiful Elvish lettering disguises the harsh clashing sound of the Black Speech of Mordor.

‘Old Man Willow’, c.1938. The use of coloured pencil softens the menace of this drawing but the tree’s wriggling roots and arm-like branches hint at its mobility, and the dire consequences for the hobbits.

‘The Misty Mountains’. An undated painting of the mountain range that features so significantly in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

‘Moria Gate’, c.1939. This drawing is dominated by the imposing wall of stone behind the doorway, both hostile and impregnable. The lower section of the drawing was cut off by Tolkien at a later date as it no longer complemented the published text.

A page from the Book of Mazarbul, 1940s. This book was found by the Fellowship as they journeyed through the Mines of Moria. Tolkien carefully created three burnt and bloodstained fragments using his own smouldering pipe to char the edges of the paper and applying red and brown paint to resemble dried blood.

The final page from the Book of Mazarbul, 1940s. It was ‘slashed and stabbed and partly burned’ so that ‘little of it could be read’. The last line tails off in a hurried scrawl with the ominous words, ‘they are coming…’

‘The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring’, early 1940s. The mallorn trees of Lothlórien retained their golden leaves throughout the winter. In spring as the new green leaves opened and the yellow flowers blossomed on the trees, the leaves fell to the ground in a golden carpet.

‘Orthanc (1)’, c.1942. This drawing shows an early conception of Saruman’s tower at Isengard. As Tolkien wrote the text he made various sketches and drawings which together gradually evolved into the final written description.

‘Barad-dûr The Fortress of Sauron’, c.1944. Tolkien’s brick by brick depiction of the Dark Tower must have taken intense concentration and indicates that drawing was a form of relaxation, sometimes even a counterpoint to writing.

The arm of Sauron, March 1954. Descriptions of Sauron are noticeably missing from The Lord of the Rings: a deliberate omission allowing the reader’s imagination free rein. This preparatory sketch, for The Return of the King’s dust jacket, is the exception.

‘Shelob’s Lair’, 1944. As Tolkien wrote the chapter entitled, ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’, he stopped to sketch out the approach to the fortress. This page is a perfect example of Tolkien using art to develop his written description.

‘Dunharrow’, c.1944. Tolkien made many preparatory sketches for this scene: drawing as he wrote and re-wrote the text. On the back of this illustration he has written, ‘no longer fits story’.

Draft dust jacket design for The Fellowship of the Ring, March 1954. Tolkien drew a number of different designs for the dust jacket but this one was his favourite. However it was not the one that was chosen by his publisher.

One of a number of dust jacket designs drawn by Tolkien for the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, March 1954. All the designs incorporate the One Ring in the centre.

Dust jacket design for The Two Towers, March 1954. As Tolkien worked on the design he realized that he would have to decide which two towers the title referred to: up to this point it had been left deliberately ambiguous.

Dust jacket design for The Return of the King, March 1954. Tolkien described the design as, ‘The empty throne awaiting return of the King: with Númenórean inscription recording the words of Elendil … In this place will I abide and my heirs until the World’s end.’