J.R.R. Tolkien’s Estate Just Released A Treasure Trove Of Drawings, Maps, And More
By Kaleena Fraga | Checked By Cara Johnson
Published March 22, 2022
Updated March 23, 2022
The Tolkien estate's website includes drawings by J.R.R. Tolkien of the worlds he created for "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."
Courtesy of the Tolkien EstateAn undated depiction of the “Misty Mountains,” a location that’s featured prominently in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
In his life, J.R.R. Tolkien created the elaborate world of “Middle-earth,” where he set The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Now, his estate has released a number of drawings and maps that the author made as he plotted out his books.
The images, housed on the Tolkien estate’s updated website, include intricately drawn scenes from Tolkien’s work. Viewers can see how the mines of Moria, the forest of Lothlórien, and the elven city of Rivendell appeared in Tolkien’s mind.
In a nod to The Lord of the Rings fans, the website went live on Feb. 26 — the date, according to a statement emailed to Smithsonian magazine, “in the Third Age when the Fellowship of the Ring was broken at Amon Hen and Frodo and Sam set out on their lonely and terrifying journey to Mordor.”
The website also includes maps that Tolkien drew to better understand the movement of his characters; examples of his calligraphy; documents, photos, and audio clips from his life; and a draft manuscript of The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son (1953). Some of these documents have never been seen before.
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Here, Tolkien beautifully wrote out the words that "appear on the One Ring when it is exposed to fire."
Translated they read: "One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them; One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water." August 1937.
According to the Tolkien estate, this image appeared in black and white in the first edition of The Hobbit, before Tolkien revised and painted it for the American version.Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Conversation with Smaug." July 1937.
The Tolkien estate notes that Bilbo, though invisible — as indicated by the cloud — nevertheless bows deeply to the dragon. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Moria Gate." Circa 1939.
The Tolkien estate notes, "This drawing is dominated by the imposing wall of stone behind the doorway, both hostile and impregnable." Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves." July 1937.
J.R.R. Tolkien was apparently disappointed when this illustration — which he thought captured the scene well — was left out of the American version of The Hobbit.Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Rivendell looking East." Circa early 1930s.
According to the Tolkien estate, "This drawing became the basis for the 1937 watercolor of Rivendell in which the mountain walls are drawn closer together, intensifying the depth of the chasm and the secret location of the 'last homely house.'"Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Old Man Willow." Circa 1938.
The Tolkien estate explains that the "tree's wriggling roots and arm-like branches hint at its mobility, and the dire consequences for the hobbits."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The Misty Mountains looking West from the Eagles' Eyrie towards Goblin Gate." January 1937.
This image was not used in The Hobbit, though the final illustration is almost "identical." Tolkien's estate notes that he replaced the trees here with "more realistic pine trees."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The final page from the Book of Mazarbul." Circa 1940s.
Tolkien painstakingly created the "damage" to this page, which the Fellowship finds in the Mines of Moria. The last line hauntingly reads, "they are coming..."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Bilbo woke up with the early sun in his eyes." 1937.
In this illustration from The Hobbit, Tolkien uses a "warm yellow color" to depict the morning sunlight touching the icy blue mountains. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring." Early 1940s.
"The Mallorn trees of Lothlórien retained their golden leaves throughout the winter. In spring as the new green leaves opened and the yellow flowers blossomed on the trees, the leaves fell to the ground in a golden carpet."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Firelight in Beorn's House." January 1937.
"Tolkien drew two preparatory sketches and two finished drawings of the hall in Beorn's house," his estate explains. "They resemble the mead halls where Anglo-Saxon warriors would have gathered to feast, drink, and sleep."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Orthanc (1)." Circa 1942.
A depiction of the wizard Saruman's tower, Orthanc at Isengard. Tolkien's estate explains, "As Tolkien wrote the text he made various sketches and drawings which together gradually evolved into the final written description."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The Hall at Bag-End, Residence of B. Baggins Esquire." January 1937.
Fans of Tolkien will certainly recognize the iconic round home of Bilbo Baggins, Bag-End. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The Elvenking's Gate." 1936.
Tolkien's estate notes that the author drew "many versions" of this scene from The Hobbit.Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Barad-dûr The Fortress of Sauron." Circa 1944.
The Tolkien estate speculates that the intricate detail in this sketch suggests that Tolkien used drawing as a way to relax. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The Front Gate." December 1936.
Tolkien's estate writes that this black and white illustration "captures the desolation of the landscape in front of the Lonely Mountain: barren and lifeless after the dragon's long habitation."Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"The arm of Sauron." March 1954.
Sauron's lack of description in the books is deliberate — it lets readers' imaginations run wild. But Tolkien did prepare this sketch for the dust jacket of The Return of the King.Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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"Shelob's Lair." 1944.
As Tolkien wrote the chapter entitled "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol," he appears to have stopped to sketch them out, showing how his illustrations often went hand in hand with his writing. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
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A draft dust jacket design for The Fellowship of the Ring drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1954. Though this one was his favorite, it was not chosen by his publisher. Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Estate Just Released A Treasure Trove Of Drawings, Maps, And More
Born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien on Jan. 3, 1892, in South Africa, J.R.R. Tolkien lived a rich and sometimes tragic life. After moving to England as a young boy, he went on to study at King Edward's School in Birmingham and Exeter College in Oxford before serving in the British Army during World War I.
He saw action during the bloody Battle of the Somme, in which more than 125,000 young British soldiers lost their lives. Two of them — Robert Gilson and Ralph Payton — were Tolkien's friends.
"Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute," Tolkien wrote of his experience.
But he long resisted the idea that his books, especially the battle-heavy scenes of The Lord of the Rings, had anything pointed to say about World War I or World War II. In the foreword for the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote, "As for any inner meaning or 'message,' it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical."
Courtesy of the Tolkien EstateJ.R.R. Tolkien did not intend this rough sketch from 1936, entitled "Death of Smaug," to be published, but it was later used for a paperback edition of The Hobbit in 1966.
Indeed, Tolkien seemed to draw from a wealth of sources beyond his own experience. As a professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford after the war, he translated texts like Beowolf to great acclaim. And he came up with stories like The Hobbit simply to entertain his four children.
Regardless of his motivations, however, Tolkien succeeded in writing books that have enchanted the world for decades. More than 150 million copies of the Lord of The Rings trilogy have been sold, and the books were also adapted into a successful film franchise in 2001.
After looking through these J.R.R. Tolkien drawings, look through these incredible history maps that explain the world better than any textbook. Or look at these fantastic real-life Hobbit homes.
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.