Friday, 13 November 2009

Tolkien, Lord of the Rings (1951-3)

I used to say 'I have re-read this novel every year since I first read it, when I was 12.' And that used to be true; but then last year, for whatever reason, I didn't get round to my annual re-read. And this year's nearly over. So I've decided to go through it again, before I run out of year.

Now, the point of this post is not to talk about the novel as such, so much as to talk about these exemplary, beautiful Pauline Baynes cover illustrations. Let me hear you say 'oooh!' ('oooh!'). Click on them and they should become enlarged.

This was the edition in which I first read LotR (my mother's old edition, I think). When I discovered it again in a charity shop for the absurd price above indicated I couldn't resist buying it, and adding it to the four (or five; I'm not sure) editions of the title I already own.

But I hope it's not merely rank nostalgia that makes me say: it's a lovely cover. Even the Victorian Playbill title font works. I love the way there's an outer frame of stylised trees (with orcs lurking in the roots) surrounding an inner frame of stylised trees, itself surrounding a vertically stacked perspective of more trees, houses, hills and mountains. The visual idiom is a perfectly pitched Edwardian-Medieval, spot-on for the novel. And there's a canny little visual push-pull about the way the picture invites the eye to run up from the miniature figures at the bottom through the landscape they must traverse to the mountains at the top, at the same time that the words of the title invite the eye to work their way down from 'The' to 'Rings'. Very clever.

The back is lovely too. Those kiln-shaped mountains and towers! Like pottery models. And the sea-blue barrenness of peaks and tips.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I'm coming to this from your 2011 post (pasted below since I can never get embedded links to work in these comment boxes).

My first copy of LOTR was that edition which I read when I was almost 12. I had been looking for a copy for a couple of years since learning of its existence in the endpapers of The Hobbit. Such was life in the pre-internet era when you wouldn't look stuff up on Wikipedia and if your (Australian rural town) library didn't have a copy there wasn't a bookshop within hundreds of miles that would stock it or take an order from a child.

In 1974 or so there was an apaprent resurgence of Tolkien publishing that fed into the Sword of Shannara success in 1977. A few different editions of LOTR suddenly appeared on our local newsagent's shelves: the "Baynes" single-volume, and a slipcased three volume from Allan & Unwin with what appear to be Tolkien watercolours on the covers.

While it was technically my first copy, I only had it for about an hour after unwrapping it on Xmas morning. I flicked to the back and saw that it didn't include any of the appendices that were included in the Unwin. Somehow I managed to slip over to the newsagent, which happened to be across the road from our house and talk them into swapping my editions. The Baynes post-appendectomy edition was actually more expensive than the other so they allowed it.

I still have slightly foxed version.