J.R.R. Tolkien appears to have viewed his sub-creation as a world that others can and probably should add to.
Surely plenty of artists have tried their hand on themes from The Professor’s stories: Names such as Alan Lee, John Howe and Ted Nasmith come to mind. Today, we were introduced to another contemporary painter who appears to love Middle-Earth: Donato Giancola. Here is an example of his art:
One of the things I like particularly about Giancola’s work is that the characters from Tolkien’s books do not look like the actors that portray them in Peter Jackson’s movies. Precisely because they have all done a terrific job portraying all those wonderful Tolkien’ian characters, they have made it quite hard to sever one’s imagination from their faces and voices. Mr. Giancola does not seem to have this problem and I am very thankful for it. Look at this example of Gandalf and Frodo:
Now, I am no expert, so don’t take my word for anything concerning art, ask John Howe! Here’s what he says, quoted from Mr. Giancola’s website:
“There’s more to Donato Giancola’s art than just a pretty face. Underneath the incredibly meticulous surface of his paintings is concealed a love of perspective and form, an intimate understanding of the human body, a historian’s knowledge of costume and armour, an infallible sense of implicit narrative, visual storytelling and mythical history. It’s just that you’re so rapt gazing at all the mind-blowingly pretty bits that you tend to miss it. Look again. There’s a lot more to see.”
-John Howe, concept designer, artist, historian
One last example, this time not from Tolkien’s world but from the Magic: The Gathering game cards. It is titled ‘Amber Prison”:
A minstrel of Gondor stood forth, and knelt, and begged leave to sing. And behold!, he said:
‘Lo! lords and knights and men of valour unashamed, kings and princes, and fair people of Gondor, and Riders of Rohan, and ye sons of Elrond, and Dúnedain of the North, and Elf and Dwarf, and greathearts of the Shire, and all free folk of the West, now listen to my lay. For I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’
And when Sam heart that he laughed out loud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried: ‘O great glory and splendor! And all my wishes have come true!’ And then he wept.
And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
Sounds like Art with a capital A.
Featured John Howe’s depiction of Frodo and Sam, and Gollum, on their way to Mount Doom.
Balrogs owe a part of their existence to an editorial problem. There is an Old English poem called EXODUS, like several Old English poems a paraphrase of a part of the Bible. (…) [Tolkien] thought on linguistic grounds that it was older than BEOWULF, and he thought that like the BEOWULF-poet, the EXODUS-poet had known a good deal about the native pre-Christian mythology, which could with care be retrieved from his copyists’ ignorant errors. In particular, the poet at several points mentions the SIGELWARA LAND, the ‘land of the Sigelware’. In modern dictionaries and editions, these ‘Sigelware’ are invariably translated as ‘Ethiopians’. Tolkien thought, as often, that that was a mistake. He thought the name was another compound, (…) and that it should have been written *SIGEL-HEARWA. Furthermore, he suggested (…) that a *SIGEL-HEARWA was a kind of fire-giant. The first element in the compound meant both ‘sun’ and ‘jewel’; the second was related to the Latin CARBO, soot. When an Anglo-Saxon from the pre-literate Dark Age said SIGELHEARWA, before any Englishman had ever heard of Ethiopia or the Book of Exodus, Tolkien believed that what he meant was ‘rather a son of Múspell [the Old Norse fire-giant who will bring on Ragarök] than of Ham, the ancestors of the Silhearwan with red-hot eyes that emitted sparks, with faces black as soot’.
The fusion of ‘sun’ and ‘jewel’ perhaps had something to do with Tolkien’s concept of the SILMARIL. The idea of a fire-spirit re-emerges in the brief glimpse of the orc-chieftain who stabs Frodo, with his ‘swart’ face, red tongue and ‘eyes like coals’, but it also gave Tolkien Durin’s Bane, the Balrog. (…) The clash of Gandalf and the Balrog produces (…) feelings of mystery: we hear of, but do not understand, the opposition between ‘the Secret Fire … the flame of Anor’, and ‘the dark fire … flame of Udûn’. What Tolkien does in such passages is to satisfy the urge to know more (the urge he himself felt as an editor of texts so often infuriatingly incomplete), while retaining and even intensifying the counterbalancing pleasure of seeming always on the edge of a new discovery, looking into a world that seems far fuller than the little at present known. If gold and greed and mastery are ‘the desire of the hearts of dwarves’, then words and links and inferences are the lust of philologists. Tolkien had that lust as strongly as anyone ever has, but he felt it was one which could be strongly shared.
~ Tom Shippey: J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of the Century.
“I cordially dislike allegory (…). I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader.”
‘ I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.’
JRRT: LOTR, Book I, Chapter II
‘Large symbolism’, however, should not be a matter of one imposed diagram, but of repeated offered hints. The hints would work only if they were true both in fact and fiction. History, thought Tolkien, was varied in its applicability. But if you understood it properly, you saw it repeating itself.
(…) When Gandalf tells Frodo about the ring, Frodo replies ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, but Gandalf reproves him: ‘So do I … and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide’ (p. 50). The rebuke is deserved by Frodo, but also by Neville Chamberlain with his now infamous promise that he brought ‘peace in our time’. Elrond, on p. 237, has learned better. He remembers a moment when ‘the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever’ but knows that ‘it was not so’. Tolkien himself fought in ‘the war to end all wars’, but saw his sons fighting in the one after that.
Tom Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth, pp. 169-70
Both illustrations used in this post are from John Howe’s website. For the featured image uncropped, visit his Portfolio.