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May
04

Illustrated Lord of the Rings… by Ben Towle, age 7

Before my daughter takes her afternoon nap, I usually read her a few pages from a non-picture book to help her doze off. We’ve gotten through a surprising number of books in this fashion–mostly things like William Steig’s Abel’s Island and the Ramona books.  Last week we started reading The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien.

My mother read The Hobbit to me when I was around the same age (three-ish) and I likely comprehended about as much of it then as my daughter will now: not a whole heck of a lot. I did, though, develop a genuine childhood interest in things-Tolkien, most likely a result not of the book The Hobbit but from the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated TV special and its accompanying double LP soundtrack set that I listened to ad nauseum as a youngster. Curiously, though, the visual aspects of Middle Earth haven’t seeped much into my artwork. While my love of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work continues to this day, (I regularly re-read the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings series every few years) my artwork is decidedly non-fantasy-ish in nature.

This was not always the case, though. I got some positive reactions to an earlier post of one of my childhood “mini-comics,” so here for your viewing and/or laughing-at pleasure is my Lord of the Rings-themed childhood mini-comic, “The Hobbit Story’s” (sic).

Here’s a picture of me holding it, so you can get an idea of the size of the thing. I was Kramers Ergot 7 before Kramers Ergot 7 was cool. Masking tape binding, though?! C’mon, Mom, couldn’t you shell out for a long-reach swing-arm stapler like all the “cool kids” use to make their mini-comics? Incidentally, I’m guessing I was seven when I made this based mainly on the character designs of Bilbo and Gandalf in the book, both of which seem to be influenced by the Rankin/Bass adaptation that I would have seen in ’77 when I was seven years old.

The book is eight pages total, but I’ll just excerpt a few here. Most of the pages are just illustrations of characters from The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings. Here’s one, for example:

You can see here some early gore: the orc has apparently felt the bite of “Sting,” Bilbo’s blade. For some reason I was apparently under the impression that the Balrog was THE Lord of the Rings. I love the way he’s drawn like a bat, which makes him look really tiny. “YOU SHALL NOT PASS, LITTLE DUDE!!” I think that ent is drunk. And, ah, who can forget the enigmatic wizard, Gondof.

Here’re a few more:

Bilbo here is clearly the beady-eyed “alternate world” Bilbo from Coraline. In the upper right is Shelob, I think. What she’s walking on top of  is anyone’s guess. I gotta say, though: other than the missing “u.” that’s not a bad Smaug.

A few more characters:

I’m gettin’ all obscure on ya here. Hurons are ent-like creatures that can create darkness around themselves. They can speak, but only to each other and to ents– not to other races. I’m pretty sure they don’t breathe fire, as pictured here (a little “artist’s license,” I guess). It really goes without saying, but Narsil was the sword of King Elendil of the Dúnedain, which in a later age was reforged as Andúril. I have no official comment on my Hershey’s Kiss-like  character design for Aragorn, nor on what that thing’s supposed to be directly underneath him.

Mom is clearly assisting handwriting-wise with this inscrutable “chart”:

What’s with the numbering? My best guess is that this is the order I’d pick characters from Middle Earth to play on a kickball team. If you’re from the Shire, you’re probably wondering what the heck a “mamuk” is. It’s the same thing as an Oliphaunt–kinda like “turtle”/”tortoise.” See here.

Much as the Chris Ware-edited McSweeny’s comics issue had that smaller-book-within-a-book deal where there was a little John Porcillino mini folded into the book’s cover, The Hobbit Story’s features this little “bonus mini” taped right into the binding:

The insert here is (I’m guessing) showing the scene in The Hobbit where the dwarves are captured by giant spiders and sewn into their webs. The left-hand page of the big book shows Bilbo falling into Gollum’s cave. That thing that looks like a gecko is apparently Golum himself.

While I didn’t turn out to be a fantasy artist, I can’t help but think that my early love of Tolkien must have played some part in my lifelong devotion to drawing–and to books. Thanks, Mom! There are a lot of things about being a parent that are frustrating and difficult; reading to your kids isn’t one of them. Do it.

1 comment

  1. Joanna Best says:

    This is good stuff! I almost cried. I’m not kidding. My baby guy is 19 months old now and beginning to show his personality and I’m realizing how valuable not only is he to me, but that my attention to him and what we spend our time doing will help shape him. I’ve resigned from several of my volunteer jobs so I can pay more attention to him.
    Add to that, I had a rewarding moment as a step-parent. I constantly find drawings that my 8 year old stepson Harrison has done (mostly Pokemon characters, a few Star Wars and for a while he doodled from a “How to Draw” book that my mother got for him). He always prints “By Harrison Smith Best”—even when I had him make wrapping paper for Bo’s first birthday, he wrote “Created by Harrison”—anyway, I got him a nice art set and a sketch book for his birthday (8th). He got some really cool stuff (remote control helicopter, etc), but he opened that art set and started drawing right in the middle of the party and later said that was his favorite gift.
    I feel good for having paid attention. I might point him towards Ben Towle, artist, one day! (he does see the baseball page from Farewell Georgia hanging on our wall—and I also have an original Walt Disney of Christopher Robin he has taken note of).
    Anyway—I liked this post. Thank you. (sorry to write such a lengthy, back-patting reply) :) btw, my dad read Tolkien to us at the same age and I was forever plagued by a fear of Night Riders when we rode in the car at night. I would look for them along the side of the road!

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