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Dear Readers,


We’ve recently been admiring the illustrations of one of our favorite artists, Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). As a book illustrator, Rackham’s main focus was fairy tales, and for them, he developed a style which was described by E. V. Lucas in a letter to Rackham as his “grace and grotesque”. For us, what may be most striking about his work is the way he depicts landscapes and trees, with their distinctive “Rackhamesque” character.


From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book, 1922


“Come Now, a Roundel” from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1908


From Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, 1940


From William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1908


As a tree admirer,


He was certainly not alone.


Being Tolkien people, this reminded us, of course, of JRRT’s own admiration of trees, of which he wrote in a sort of letter of introduction to Houghton Mifflin Co.: “I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been…” (Letters, 220).

JRRT himself was an illustrator of his own stories, and although he never cited Rackham as a direct influence, we know from Tolkien’s letters that he had seen Rackham’s work. He advised his illustrator Pauline Baynes to “avoid the Scylla of Blyton and the Charybdis of Rackham” (L 312).

Here is Pauline Baynes frontispiece for the first book which she illustrated for JRRT in 1949.


Enid Blyton was an author of popular children’s books, but she was not an illustrator. We don’t know to what illustrations Tolkien might have been referring, but here is a Blyton book published in the same year, illustrated by the Dutch artist, Harmsen Van Der Beek. (The cover illustration reminds us of various illustrations for early translations of The Hobbit, illustrations which Tolkien hated.)


When we look at Tolkien’s forests


we are often reminded of the work of the Swedish artist, John Bauer


but for all of Tolkien’s warning to Baynes about Rackham’s style, there is a strong influence there, still.  After all, Tolkien did find Rackham’s illustrations “really astonishingly good pictures” (261). Sharing a passion for fairy tales with Rackham, which JRRT called “one of the highest forms of literature”, it’s no wonder to us that he would have found some inspiration in an artist who had similar tastes.

The influence seems strongest when it comes to animate trees.  As we were looking at the same Rackham illustrations which Tolkien would have seen, we found pictures which immediately reminded us, for example, of JRRT’s illustration of Old Man Willow.



Just as Rackham’s work seems to have influenced JRRT as an illustrator, he seems to have inspired JRRT’s writing, as well. Being visual people, we can certainly say that, when writing Across the Doubtful Sea, we looked at several images which helped us to imagine the events, places, and characters in our south seas adventure. If you look at Rackham’s The Hawthorne Tree, dear readers, does it remind you of something—or someone?


It’s the wizened, knotted old face of Rackham’s Hawthorne Tree which made us think of this passage:

“They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face. It belonged to a Man-like, almost troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin… But at the moment, the Hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating.” (The Two Towers, “Treebeard”, 452)


Treebeard is, in fact, not a tree, but an Ent. He is an ancient tree-like figure, however, and almost a description of Rackham’s illustration. Looking at Rackham’s paintings and drawings, it’s clear to us that they call out for story, and we wonder– is this how JRRT, with a passion for trees and an eye for illustration, felt about them, too?

Thank you, as always, for reading.