Classic Covers: J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was the book that launched a thousand trilogies, and made Tolkien’s name synonymous not just with modern fantasy fiction, but publishing mega-success. With more copies, in more languages, in more editions, than anything else in its category, and with an entire sub-industry spun out of publishing various notes, unpublished drafts, and side-excursions of its author, The Lord of the Rings remains the gold standard by which all other secondary worlds, and all other fantasy blockbusters, are judged. With covers ranging from the iconic to the iconographic, the literal to the surreal, many even featuring the art of the good Professor himself, and with editions spanning leather-bound limited-run collectibles to utterly ubiquitous mass market paperbacks, copies of Tolkien are as ever-present and universal in the physical world of books and book collections as the tales they tell are ingrained in the imaginations of modern readers.

Of course, the visual world inspired by Tolkien’s writing is only in a very limited sense portrayed in the myriad covers of his many editions — for the true scope of his influence on artists one must turn to the interior illustrations, concept work across various media, and calendar and wall art that thousands of artists, professional and amateur alike, have used to lovingly elaborate upon the world Tolkien painstakingly brought to life with his craft.

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