Tolkien Illustrated: Picturing the Legendarium

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium has been a source of inspiration to illustrators for many decades. Visual interpretations of Tolkien’s texts are as rich and varied as the landscapes and cultures which inhabit his sub-creation. From the delicate neo-medievalisms of Pauline Baynes, the bold simplicity of Cor Blok and the narrative figuration of Alan Lee and Angus McBride, to the grimdark visions of Ian Miller, the mosaic-like borrowings of Sergei Iukhimov and the colorful, diverse depictions of contemporary fanart, Tolkien illustration continues to reinvent itself and push cultural and creative boundaries.

This course aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to the study of Tolkien illustration, its visual, contextual, and critical analyses. Over the twelve weeks we will be taking a global view of the artform, exploring its history, style, subject matter, and symbolism through the examination of individual case studies, key illustrated Tolkien editions, and multi-artist collections. Using established art historical paradigms, we will learn how technical, socio-political, and cultural factors have affected tradition and aesthetic choices in Tolkien illustration. To properly reflect illustration’s communicative function, we will be prioritising its interrelationship with Tolkien’s texts and seeking to develop an awareness of how these two elements work together to create, refine, and alter meaning. Ultimately, students will be equipped with the tools necessary to analyse Tolkien illustration from various theoretical angles and have experience of using visual material to further their understanding and/or questioning of the author’s work.

Weekly Schedule

This course includes two 90-minute lectures per week with Visiting Lecturer Joel Merriner (24 lectures total).

Course Schedule

Week 1: What is Illustration?

Week 2: The Image as Evidence

Week 3: Artistic Vision: Form

Week 4: ‘things that are’: Iconography

Week 5: ‘things that yet may be’: Semiotics

Week 6: Comrades, gamers, stoners: A Question of Context

Week 7: Reception and Adaptation

Week 8: Images of Power? Magic, sensation and Pathosformel

Week 9: Diverse Visions: Decolonising the Imaginary

Week 10: Éowyn Must Die: Slaying Stereotypes

Week 11: The Mirror and the Gaze: Psychoanalysis

Week 12: Tolkien Illustration: A ‘Fourth Age’?

Required Texts

The links are provided for convenience but students are encouraged to purchase required texts wherever they wish. For the Tolkien texts, no particular editions are required.

The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthologyedited by Donald Preziosi

Art History: A Critical Introduction to its Methods Michael Hatt and Charlotte Klonk

The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien

Farmer Giles of Ham J.R.R. Tolkien

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Summer 2023Joel Merriner & Chris Vaccaro

Course Artwork

Course artwork credit: Joel Merriner. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Tolkien Illustrated: Picturing the Legendarium course artwork. Medieval-styled picture of a man with a staff and gray beard painting a picture of a man's face.

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the history of Tolkien illustration and its visual, contextual, and critical analyses.

START: May 1, 2023

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5318