John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is best known to the world as the author of the classic fantasies The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In his professional life, he was a superb philologist, a skilled translator, the author of a seminal essay on Beowulf, and a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. But Tolkien was also a father who loved to make up stories for his four children, write them down, and in many cases, as we’ve seen in the exhibit at the Morgan, illustrate them himself. Tolkien was an enthusiastic amateur artist with a unique style, loved color and line and repetitive decoration, but he was rather better at depicting landscapes than people. He usually worked in pen and ink, chalk, or colored pencil. In addition to The Hobbit, widely considered a classic of children’s literature, he also wrote four shorter works specifically for children, two published during his lifetime and two posthumously, as well as many poems and a delightful collection of annual illustrated letters from Father Christmas.


— As presented at The New York Tolkien Conference, March 17, 2019

— This presentation expands and updates an article I wrote in 2003 for World Literature Today



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