Lot 557: TLS, one page, 7 x 9, personal letterhead, May 24, 1968. Letter to Mary Fairburn, an artist who sent him paintings of several scenes from Lord of the Rings. In part: "I think the samples of illustrations you sent me are splendid. They are better pictures in themselves and also show far more attention to the text than any that have yet been submitted to me. My publishers and I decided long ago not to have The Lord of the Rings illustrated, largely for the reasons which I myself dealt with in my lecture 'On Fairy Stories,' now included in Tree and Leaf. I should not think of employing Pauline Baynes because, thought she can be quite good at certain points, she cannot rise to anything more noble or awe-inspiring. See, for instance, her ridiculous picture of the dragon…After seeing your specimens I am beginning to change my mind, and I think that an illustrated edition might be a good thing." Affixed to a larger black cardstock sheet. In fine condition, with intersecting folds and scattered wrinkling.After having seen various illustrated editions of The Hobbit produced—most not to his liking—Tolkien was understandably weary of would-be illustrators. Just one year before receiving Fairburn's paintings, Tolkien wrote to his publisher Rayner Unwin, 'As far as an English edition goes, I myself am not at all anxious for The Lord of the Rings to be illustrated by anybody whether a genius or not.' There were a handful of artists whose Lord of the Rings–inspired work he did appreciate, but he made a clear distinction between what he liked on artistic merit versus what he believed was fit to accompany text. In the 1947 essay 'On Fairy Stories' mentioned here, Tolkien explains: '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.' Based on all of Tolkien's comments and correspondence, this was a strong conviction. However, he was so struck by Fairburn's work that he did again begin discussions with his publisher about an illustrated edition. Although that never came to fruition, Fairburn's illustrations finally saw publication as the basis of HarperCollins's official Tolkien calendar for 2015.
RR Auction's Fine Autographs and Artifacts Auction 467
Wednesday, 13th January 2016
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