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Following successful museum exhibitions in 2018 and 2019, the author's own illustrations will be incorporated into a new edition of his most famous book for the first time since its 1954 publication.

By Christian Holub
March 25, 2021 at 11:07 AM EDT
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J.R.R. Tolkien wasn't just a writer. The beloved author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit was also an amateur illustrator, and for the first time a new edition of Tolkien's most famous work will include his own art, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt later this year.

Back in 2019, a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and made museum-going difficult, the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City hosted an exhibit called "Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth," which originated at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and showed off many pieces of Tolkien's art — illustrations to accompany his Middle-earth works like The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion as well as Christmas cards for his children. In the wake of that exhibit's success, publishers of Tolkien's work now want to integrate his art more fully into his writing.

"His charming and evocative illustrations that accompanied The Hobbit, particularly the now-iconic image that appears on its cover, have become as beloved as the story they accompany," Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publisher Deb Brody said in a statement. "Yet the author himself was characteristically modest, dismissive of the obvious and rare artistic talent he possessed despite having had no formal training. This modesty meant that relatively little else of his artwork was known of or seen during his lifetime, and generally only in scholarly books afterwards."

Brody continued, "this all changed in 2018, with the first of three record-breaking Tolkien exhibitions in Oxford, New York and Paris, at which hundreds of thousands of people were able to appreciate at first hand the extraordinary artistic achievement of a man known primarily for the written word. Among the exhibits was a selection of the paintings, drawings and sketches that Tolkien produced when writing The Lord of the Rings. Originally intended by him purely for his personal pleasure and reference, after such an overwhelmingly positive response by people to Tolkien the Artist it seemed fitting to finally reunite this art with the words it enhances, and we are delighted that in so doing it will allow people to enjoy this masterpiece anew."

The Lord of the Rings edition including JRR Tokien's own art
Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Lord of the Rings edition including JRR Tokien's own art
Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There's a lot of energy around Tolkien's legendarium these days. 2019 saw the release of a Tolkien biopic starring Nicholas Hoult. Amazon has fully cast its upcoming The Lord of the Rings show, which looks to be set during the Second Age of Middle-earth. Actors who have previously appeared in Tolkien adaptations, like Ian McKellen and John Rhys-Davies, recently banded together for an initiative called Project Northmoor that sought to raise funds to buy Tolkien's old home in Oxford and set it up as as a cultural center and writing retreat, but the fundraising effort officially failed this week.

The new edition of The Lord of the Rings, the first since its original 1954 publication to feature Tolkien's own art, will be published in the U.S. on October 19, 2021, and subsequently translated around the world. Check out the cover above.

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