How The Hobbit Was First Visualized

Today, should you so desire, you can go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at the ol’ multiplex. You can probably do so for the next several weeks, as Peter Jackson’s takes on Middle Earth have proven to be absolute cash cows.

I like ’em. I even liked An Unexpected Journey. I get why some don’t, though — getting away from source material has never bothered me too much, but I do understand the sentiment of those whom it does.

And what a segue that provides: The source material! A couple years back, The Guardian showcased some of the material from The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Here are some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s early illustrations as he dreamed up Middle Earth, and Smaug in particular. No need for CGI here.

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You can see how some of these latter drawings might have worked into the book’s original 1937 dustcover, illustrated by Tolkien.

(An interesting, albeit tangential, note about the dustcover from TolkienLibrary.com: “Originally Tolkien intended the flying dragon and the sun to be painted red, but budget restraints forced the red color to be substituted with black.”)

It is probably worth noting that Tolkien did not necessarily hold illustration in the highest regard. He wrote in a 1947 essay (courtesy of io9):

However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation and true literature is that . . . literature works from mind to mind and is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal and more poignantly particular.

How could I end this article without providing the solid middle ground between illustration and blockbuster that is the animated 1977 TV movie. Unlike Jackson’s ongoing Hobbit trilogy, this thing manages to tell the whole story in 77 minutes — less than half the length of The Desolation of Smaug. Here’s the first 20 minutes.


Hobbit (1977) part I by RERAGNAROK