Original Ballantine book cover concept art for J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings on eBay


1 Like

Yep! One of my clearest memories of early teenagehood is of browsing a charming bookstore in downtown Hyannis, Massachusetts in late August and seeing those marvelously pastel red, blue, and greenish illustrations for the paperback editions of the Hobbit and the trilogy. I bought all four at once…and spent the entire Autumn plowing through the entire epic.

It kept my mind off the girl for whom I did not have the fortitude, wits, or courage to ask out…or even talk to socially. At some abstract level, I still associate those covers with her angelic curly blondeness. Fantasy all around.

This cover was one of the earliest realizations that cover artists don’t read the material they’re illustrating.

1 Like

That, and the fact that they’re confused about being paid not to “do art”, but to illustrate a product. I once hired a graphic designer to illustrate a card for my business. When I came back, rather than see several ideas sketched out for me to choose from, there was one completed illustration that was exactly what I had explicitly said I didn’t want. He thought it was cool. I walked out.

…too mortifying for words, the fantasy art of John Pitre, a Thomas Kinkade for the sword-and-sorcery set.

I never really got why I’m supposed to despise Thomas Kinkade, and now that I’ve seen John Pitre I can say the same for him.

Those things are sometimes true, but in this particular case the full story is more complicated, and the lesson more interesting. From N. Marion Hage’s interview with Barbara Remington:

I worked for Ballantine, and as a practice, always read the books before doing the artwork. I didn’t have this luxury with the Tolkien Books, something I wish I could have changed. Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away. When they commissioned me to do the artwork, I didn’t have the chance to see either book, though I tried to get a copy through my friends. So I didn’t know what they were about. I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, and so I had sketchy information at best… If I’d had the time to actually read the books first, which was my habit to do, I’d have definitely drawn different pictures.

I’m detail-oriented to a fault, and it always drives me crazy when sci-fi tabletop RPGs, for example, have detailed text descriptions of some widgets flanked by illustrations of the same that look nothing alike. The thing is, it’s not usually the artist’s fault, but a casualty of the way the industry operates.

Say the Shadowrun line editor decides he wants a book about robots to go to press in six months. He commissions a writer and some artists and gives each of them a bare outline and a deadline. He gets the commissioned material, lays it out, sends it to the printer, bam. If the artists don’t start 'til the writer’s finished, they miss their deadline, the book isn’t available in time for Christmas/GenCon/whatever, it fails to turn a profit, there’s no money to fund the next year’s books, and the company goes under.

Obviously I’m simplifying and exaggerating a bit, but niche publishers like that really do operate hand-to-mouth a lot of the time. It’s not quite as bad at the larger outfits, but margins in the fiction industry are always razor-thin, and cover artists are quite often simply not given enough time to read a book and still complete the cover before the deadline, so they do the best they can.

1 Like

I have owned the enormous poster version since I was a child. The emus have always puzzled me, too.

1 Like

I still have my paperback copy with coverart by this artist. I also remember having a full color huge poster (at least 4 ft long) that covered all three books. I’ve often wished I could have saved it.

1 Like

I’m glad you found that! Remington’s artwork isn’t to my taste (I’m much more of a John Howe and Alan Lee fan), but I was really siding with ol’ John Ronald Reuel there: Remington’s artwork isn’t the least bit representative of Tolkien’s books, save the presence of what may be round doors in what may be intended to represent Hobbiton, and two towers which unfortunately appear to be part of the same building. Oh, and a volcano. So there’s that. The Ace paperbacks may have been dishonestly published and sold, but at least their covers were representative of actual characters and locations in the story.

Yes! that’s the poster I used to have. I loved it.

1 Like

It’s really unfortunate that Ballantine didn’t give her the time to do a decent job, or even a rundown of the main dramatis personae. I think that what a lot of people here are responding to are previous inaccurate illustrations for SF&F books that have had (often hilariously) inaccurate depictions of the book’s contents; the example that always springs to my mind is the cover for one of James Blish’s Star Trek TOS episode adaptation anthologies, which shows rocket exhaust coming out of the Enterprise’s shuttlebay:

So let it be written, so let it be done: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lord-of-The-Rings-Poster-Barbara-Remington-Wilderness-J-R-R-Tolkien-Hobbit-/321265355007?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4acce848ff#viTabs_0

I was fortunate enough to know Ms. Remington when I lived in Northeastern PA, but it was just as an artist-friend. She had a solo exhibit at our local gallery, and I asked why the LOTR poster was on the back wall. I was floored at the answer, and fascinated by her story, and sad to hear that her original art had been lost at some point. I grew up staring at those covers on my mother’s bookshelf before I could read, and had been fortunate enough to have one of my performances illustrated by her on a flyer, so I was somewhat overwhelmed.

[Bizarrely, it turns out I knew of her mother back in St. Paul, Minneapolis - Barbara grew up in a house just down the street from a former girlfriend. The world is small, and strange.]

NB: I started her wikipedia page after that show. I’m a lousy wikipedian, and it would be great if somebody could find an image with the correct rights to put on the page.


This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.