Middle Earth – The World of Tolkien Illustrated

By David Wenzel, with an introduction by Lin Carter (Centaur Books Inc.)
ISBN: 0-87818-014-1

With all the fuss being generated by the perpetual hubbub in regard to the upcoming Hobbit movie I thought I’d take refuge in the distant past, to a time when the Ralph Bakshi animated feature had so soured most fans to the concept of film adaptations that the only acceptable visual interpretations of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were those generated by devoted fan-artists.

By 1977 The Lord of the Rings and its test-run The Hobbit were world classics of literature. There had even been a consequent fantasy novel revolution which spawned hundreds if not thousands of similar tales from dozens of publishers. Even comic books were slowly making inroads into this new-ish sub-genre (in Marvel Super Action #1, 1976, Doug Moench and Mike Ploog produced a delightful strip called Weirdworld that eventually evolved via Marvel Premier #38 into the groundbreaking Warriors of the Shadow Realm specials) and the independent phenomenon Elfquest was not too far on the horizon…

Still and all, dedicated, passionate purists had the field mostly to themselves and foremost among these was a young illustrator and sometime comics creator named David Wenzel.

Now the most memorable thing about those times is the perpetual cries you’d hear at every convention, launch or bookshop. You couldn’t move for the plaintive “That’s not what Hobbits look like!” At all those occasions I heard it least about this book and this artist’s interpretations…

Wenzel moved from comics to the field of fantasy and especially children’s illustration in the 1980s where he’s worked with icons like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and creators like Maurice Sendak, but his greatest achievement is probably the three part adaptation of The Hobbit he produced with Chuck Dixon and Sean Deming for Eclipse Comics in 1989 (and which I’m saving for a later date).

Before that though there was this lovely piece of work featuring extracts of Tolkien’s prose wedded to 15 lovely line drawings and 11 beautiful, sensitive watercolours with such titles as ‘Bagend’s Quiet is Shattered’, ‘Spiders and Swords in Mirkwood’ and ‘Conversations with Smaug’ that perfectly display the artist’s love of and reverence for the source material and his debt to cited influences Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, , Howard Pyle, Alphonse Mucha, Barry Windsor-Smith and Frank Frazetta; as well as Dutch painters Pieter Bruegel and Jan Steen.

Probably impossible to find in its original low-print-run original, I hope some enterprising entrepreneur is preparing this lovely art-book for a timely re-issue…
© 1977 Centaur Books Inc. Art ©1977 David Wenzel. All Rights Reserved.