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In a Hole in the Ground There Lived an Artist

Justin Gerard is one of my all-time favorite illustrators. He’s responsible for the cover of my album The Far Country, as well as the cover and illustrations for On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

For the last few months he’s undertaken the task of preserving his imagination before it is usurped by Peter Jackson and his well-meaning cronies. While the film version of The Hobbit will no doubt be a huge success, and will probably be a delight to watch, it will inevitably imprint itself on the minds of every future reader of this great story. This is one of the sad results of books-turned-films. Illustrations are less less intrusive than film in all its sound and fury, and seem more likely to merely inform and augment an imagination than to supplant it.

So Justin set out to illustrate The Hobbit the way he remembers it–not the way Guillermo Del Toro sees it, and thanks to Justin’s blog we get to see the illustrations take shape. It’s a fascinating look at the fruit of one strong imagination’s influence on another strong imagination. Whether you’re a Tolkien nerd, an art nerd, or not a nerd at all, I’m sure you’ll enjoy watching this process unfold on Justin’s website. Justin told me he didn’t mind if I posted a few images from his blog here. But seriously, subscribe to the feed as I have, and watch these excellent works as they unfold.

I’ll let Justin tell you about it in his own words:

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was in high school, a few years before Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema put together the films. Like many people, when I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s series I had all kinds of visual ideas in my own mind of what the characters, monsters and places looked like.

I remember having very clear notions of Shelob as a trap-door spider, that Isengard was more geometric and turned into a diamond at its top, that Sauron was seen as smoke and eyes and the illusion of oil-slick armor, that the orcs were meatier and more ape-like, with much longer arms, and knuckles that dragged the ground. The Balrog was only ever seen by the cracks in his flesh and his eyes and jaws. His skin would never really be seen for the smoke coming off it. The cracks in his skin would be like those in a lava flows seen at night, where some of it has cooled at the surface, but underneath it is still burning. And a few hundred other odd, now-forgotten notions of Middle Earth.

I had not seen, at this point, any of Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith’s or John Howe’s fantastic paintings, on which the film’s art direction was to be largely based. I had a lot of very crystallized ideas in my head about how everything looked. And when the films were released I was jarred my first time seeing them. Things didn’t look like they had in my head. At first it bothered me. They got it all wrong I thought. But as the Fellowship of the Ring began to make its way towards Rivendell I was surprised that I found that I really enjoyed it anyway. It was a different take than I had, but it was spectacular and I went back and watched them several times each in the theater.

Then something terrible happened.

I found that I had lost my ideas. At first, they were only tainted by the films, but after a while I found that I had lost them altogether. And no matter how much I tried to see things differently, I still saw it the way Peter Jackson showed it. The Boromir I had imaged was gone and Sean Bean’s character remained. The goblins were hunched and crooked green men without noses. This has bothered me ever since, and now that The Hobbit films are on the schedule to be released next year I find that my ideas on The Hobbit are to be put in jeopardy as well.

So, this time I have decided to put my own ideas down first, before Jackson and Del Toro and Weta and Howe and Lee can come together to blow my mind apart again with what is sure to be an awesome Hobbit film. This time, I hope to preserve my own notions of what Middle Earth might have looked like.”


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