Sunday, August 4, 2013


I'm closing out my summer with another reading of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings. It's been at least a decade since I've read any of this and longer still since I read the whole shebang, so it's a good thing all around. Like any book or story you think you know well, it's always fascinating to make fresh connections and find new things based on the differences you bring to the text as a reader.

That said, with all things Tolkien on my mind, I was moved to finally pick up the relatively recent volume The Tolkien Years of the Brothers Hildebrandt. I was among those fortunate folk who was able to collect up the famous Hildebrandt Tolkien calendars as they appeared in 1976 through 1978. Sadly I wasn't prescient enough to hang onto them, but those classic images remained burned into my imagination. So it's neat to finally have a collection of them to look at and examine alongside a raft of the prepping materials the brothers used.

Since the untimely passing of Tim Hildebrandt back in 2006, we are left limited insights from him, but his brother Greg is on hand to inject some behind-the-scenes perspective. The  bulk of the text though in this volume is by Greg Hildebrandt Jr. who was a mere lad when the classic images were created and he offers up a novel look at the work itself. Sadly his perspective is not to my mind worth the  space it is permitted in this volume, so I skipped over a lot of it. 

That said, the art is still the point of this book and all the classic stuff is  here presented as they were created for the three calendars and beyond. Looking at the Hildebrandt stuff now, it seems stiff and oddly fixed in time and the attempt at what the Brothers dubbed "Frodorealism" doesn't work as often as I remember. Their renditions of certain characters have been superseded by other artists over the decades, but there is no denying their lasting impact on the overall imagination, at least my imagination.

It's nice to have this artwork in my mitts again, reminding me of the first times I traveled to Middle Earth.

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  1. I read Lord of The Rings back in 1981, and started re-reading it in the mid-'90s. Never finished it, although I intend to one day as I only have a few chapters to go.

    Trouble is, it's a repetitive book that's desperately crying out for editing. Too many similar scenes with forest or elvin people as Frodo and his party progress in their journey. I know the idea is to suggest just what an epic trek they have to go through to get to Mordor, but it's a bit of a trek for the reader at times as well.

    To be honest, I prefer The Hobbit. Now that IS a book I've read several times - and plan to read again some day.

    1. I wouldn't edit it. It does repeat, especially in the beginning, the sections which Tolkien worked over again and again, but I find that the later parts of the story this time really have a momentum which is somewhat lacking in the charming start.

      The Hobbit is dandy, read it to my kids, works great, but doesn't have the power of the LotR to my mind. There's not the heft and sense of danger. It's a frolic, a delightful one, but not an epic. There's little doubt Bilbo will survive his adventure, but Frodo's fate is actually open to question before the end.

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