since we supplied most of the important pieces to a Tolkien museum in Switzerland
has such a key piece come on the market. The importance of this now iconic artwork to
Tolkien’s huge popularity should not be underestimated. It was the cult status
Tolkien first achieved in America and not Britain, that would make him world
famous. Keep reading if you want to know the whole story. If you would like to receive a pdf of this
and photos, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We are pleased to offer for sale, perhaps the most important
original Tolkien related art piece. It
is truly deserving as a museum piece representing a key point in the history of
Professor Tolkien works. This is the original concept art submitted to Mrs
Betty Ballantine for the 1965 Ballantine paperbacks of The Hobbit and The Lord
of the Rings books. It was also used for the promotional posters and banners
for these very popular editions. It was produced by artist Barbara Remington as
a concept proof before the final colour versions were produced. The medium is
gouache on card, glued on illustration board with the original Ballantine stock sticker on the reverse, art piece 11 x 11 inches in size plus frame and matt width. It comes with a personal COA letter from Betty Ballantine. The original concept art for the 1965 Ballantine paperbacks produced by Barbara Remington. Comes with two custom made frames, one for the art and one for the letter. Art frame has plexiglass panel on the reverse so you can see the Ballantine stock sticker. It also includes a poster- Come to Middle-earth which is the same artwork in color as well as used on the cover of Fellowship of the Ring. This iconic illustration also has a slightly infamous
reputation as Tolkien did not like it, but this does not alter its importance
to Tolkien lore as we know it today.
In 1965 Ace Paperbacks in America released unauthorised
editions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the first time in paperback. This
was due to a loophole in US copyright. The rush was then on for Houghton Mifflin,
Tolkien’s US publisher in collaboration with Ballantine books to release
authorised paperbacks of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. To close
the copyright loophole, a new version of the LotR text was needed, in which Professor
Tolkien set out to make changes in 1965. As was his way, these revisions were
quite delayed, forcing Ballantine Books to rush out a new edition of the Hobbit
instead and using Barbara Remington artwork, when she had never actually read
During an interview with N Marion Hage and Andwerve, Barbara
“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.”
above, Barbara did make sketches relative to the books, afterwards, but she
couldn’t get the publishers to see the point, something which is very
regretful). Professor Tolkien was not impressed with the new Hobbit book cover.
In a letter to Rayner Unwin, 12 September 1965, Tolkien
‘I wrote expressing
(with moderation) my dislike of the cover for the Ballantine edition of the
Hobbit. It was a short hasty note by hand, without a copy, but to this effect:
I think the cover ugly: but I recognize that a main objective of a paperback
cover is to attract purchasers, and I suppose that you are better judges of
what is attractive in the USA than I am. I therefore will not enter into a
debate about taste- (meaning though I did not say so: horrible colours and foul
lettering) - but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with
the story? Where is this place? Why a Lion and emus? And what is the thing in
the foreground with the pink bulbs?’
He would go on in his letter to be less than complimentary
in his letter as Mrs Ballantine would appear to have put her foot in it during
the conversation forgetting she was speaking to the author. Later, it would
seem they made up and became friendly thanks no doubt to the huge success of
those editions. Whether he truly disliked the art or not, his main objection
was accurate; what did it have to do with the story and clearly whoever
produced it hadn’t read the story!
However the colour finals became iconic with the first paperbacks whose
sales were soon to reach over a million copies.
This compared to only a few thousands sold a year in hard back prior to
this. Although Tolkien’s own art appears on later editions of the Ballantine paperbacks,
older fans will identify with the Remington covers as the first copies they ever
read. Even today as book and art dealers, we find the Remington art the most
recognisable of all the book covers despite Tolkien’s original dislike. There
were numerous artists since, but during our exhibitions, the Ballantine covers
remain the most familiar and most nostalgic to book fans.
Sales boomed in America in 1965 due mainly to the response
of American college students who supported Tolkien’s appeal printed on the
book’s back covers: “buy only the authorised versions”. The Ace versions were
20 cents cheaper and still selling well, but the appeal worked and Ballantine
copies were flying off the shelves much faster. Professor Tolkien expertise did
not extend to business matters given his serious delays to revisions. Had
Ballantine Books not acted hastily in getting the paperbacks to the market quickly,
Tolkien’s popularity and influence might be very different today.
The Lord of the Rings became an America campus cult.
Middle-earth was sweeping America helped by the formation of the first Tolkien
societies, long before British counterparts, as well as helped by the hippie
movement who identified with the anti-industrial themes in the book. This cult
status would eventually spread throughout the world and quickly. However,
Tolkien himself had different feelings and referred to the rising popularity as
“my deplorable cultus”. When a reporter
asked him about his favour with young Americans, he replied “Art moves them and
they don’t know what they are moved by and they get quite drunk on it”. Whatever moved them, sales worldwide would
exceed 3 million copies by the end of 1968 thanks to the release of Ballantine
paperback edition with Barbara Remington’s “misinterpretation”. This concept
painting did in fact start it all!
At the time, Tolkien’s works were still only beginning to
achieve recognition in academic circles in America, but hardly at all in his
Oxford circles. Despite the fact that we now view Tolkien works as masterpieces
and perhaps contrary to how the British would like it to be remembered, it was
popular American cult and availability in Ballantine paperback that truly
propelled Tolkien to the timeless iconic status that his books still command
The common debate raging today is whether its popular cult
or creative merit that makes something great, is one that will not be easily
agreed. Surely though, without popularity in the first place, there would be
far fewer people aware and thus willing to take the time to assess merit? They
in fact go hand in hand whether we like it or not. Certainly today many people
would agree there is much popular literature and art not worthy of the merit
attached to it. Barbara Remington’s art may or may not have merit or have been
accurate to the books, but there is no denying its popularity then and now, as
it is still very important among today’s Tolkien fandom. Indeed, it is not hard
to imagine what would have happened without it?
Own a piece of history.
Sources: J.R.R. Tolkien, A biography by Humphrey Carpenter
1977. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,
1981. Remington interview published in Andwerve.
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