Maker of Middle-earth

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Maker of Middle-earth

Postby ihadababyitsaboy » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:57 am

Hello! Not sure if this has been a discussion item before, but just in case it’s not on everyone’s radar I wanted to take a second to plug the Maker of Middle-earth exhibit at the Morgan Library in NY, NY. This is the “American Tour” of the collection that went on display in the UK last year, and it runs through 12 May.

I made the trek myself to check it out a few weeks ago, and for the devout Tolkien fan it has much to offer. The exhibit consists primarily of drawings, notes, and maps from Tolkien’s own collection, along with a few other personal odds and ends. For an example of the non-artistic items, there’s a journal on display showing where Tolkien and Edith kept track of a “kisses in exchange for productivity” log, which was a cute artifact of the relationship that ultimately gave us the tale of Beren and Luthien.

Prior to researching the exhibit, I was clueless about all the illustrations Tolkien did for the Hobbit’s initial printings, and the few pieces I had seen before I did not realize Tolkien had drawn. It’s these pieces that were my favorite bits of art, with the watercolor of Smaug lounging on his gold being the best of the bunch.

The highlight for me was the working map of Middle-earth that Tolkien used while writing the Lord of the Rings. The map was made to scale using hand-drawn grid lines, and you could see where certain sections had been “updated” by having new sheets of paper taped down atop the map to cover up the original content. When you factored in its well-worn appearance and the little burn holes in the paper from pipe tobacco, it was easy to imagine the Professor referring to the topography of the map while writing about the movement of his characters across Middle-earth on their journey.

Other interesting bits included a spreadsheet that helped track the day-by-day actions and movements of the Fellowship after it broke apart, sketches of Moria’s gate, Dunharrow, and The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings cover designs, and snippets of unused story arcs jotted down on evidently whatever paper Tolkien had on hand at the time. One of these snippets was particularly interesting, and contains a brief description of the encounter with Treebeard written in English, but Elvish runes near the text contain a warning that Treebeard is in fact in league with Sauron! I would have loved to see how different The Two Towers would have been had this thread been kept – as it stands, it’s hard to imagine!

On the whole it was a very well done exhibit and I would recommend anyone in the NY area to attend if possible. My caveat is that if you are only a fan of the films and not the books, then this exhibit may not be for you. Even for casual book fans there might not be enough here to really grab you, because this is especially geared towards the writing of the original works.

If anyone else has been to the exhibit I would love to know your experiences, and if you had any questions on what to expect if you are thinking about the trip, just let me know!

Take care!
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ihadababyitsaboy
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Re: Maker of Middle-earth

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Tue Apr 16, 2019 8:05 am

I went! Just a few days ago - it was incredible. I was nearly in tears walking out, because it was just so emotional, so powerful, being that close to the work of my idol and hero. Seeing his manuscripts, his artwork, even his clothes: it was an experience I won't ever forget. I was especially fond of the sigils Tolkien designed for Idril and Luthien - those were beautiful. Everything was amazing, though: he really was a genius, not just with his writing, but with his art too! He doesn't get enough credit as an artist, but his style was so sweet and lovely: the simple colors and almost abstract designs.
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Re: Maker of Middle-earth

Postby ihadababyitsaboy » Tue Apr 16, 2019 5:43 pm

I'm glad someone else was able to check it out! I am with you in that Tolkien's artistic talents are too often overlooked - especially the way they seem to perfectly match the style of his writing. The only item that seemed a little out of place was his drawing of Barad-dur, which was so different from its movie rendering that I didn't realize what it was supposed to be until I read the description. Still, I walked out wishing Tolkien had been given more time to do watercolors for The Lord of the Rings the same way he did for the Hobbit!

Also, I picked up a copy of the accompanying book on my way out, and for anyone who can't make it to the exhibit itself, the book is stuffed with content and is also worth checking out.
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Re: Maker of Middle-earth

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Tue Apr 16, 2019 5:52 pm

I got the book too, and love it: I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained a lot of stuff that wasn't on display, so it wasn't just like a repeat of everything I had already seen.
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