Artists in Middle-Earth: from text to image


Since October 2017, I have been working on a thesis on interior illustrations for J.R.R Tolkien's Middle-earth narratives, under the supervision of Isabelle Gadoin and Vincent Ferré.

In the field in Tolkien-related studies, the place granted to illustration is reduced to a few research studies and the three beautiful books by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond on J.R.R. Tolkien’s art as an illustrator. As for the other artists who dedicated themselves to Middle-Earth, they are seldom the subjects of studies and often are the authors of the books displaying their art. The most exemplary cases are those of Alan Lee, to whose bibliography of illustrated Tolkien books was recently added The Fall of Gondolin. The other English-speaking artists to have worked on Tolkien’s texts – Pauline Baynes, Jemima Catlin, Ferguson Dewar, Eric Fraser, Ingahild Grathmer, Michael Hague, Francis Mosley, Ted Nasmith and David Wyatt – have not been studied in a comparative analysis such as the one this thesis offers to draw.

The richness of these artists’ corpuses – so much enjoyed by a wide audience but so little-known – demands a more exhaustive work on a larger scale, and the reachability of some of them is an exceptional opportunity to make sure that such a study remains faithful to their artistic ambition.

The research focuses on the processes by which artists approach the author’s words to create illustrations. Considering the varied purposes of such artworks, the research is primarily concerned with inside illustrations for the narratives taking place in Middle-earth.


Questioning the passage from a text to an image is all the more relevant in the prospect of a comparison with J.R.R. Tolkien’s own drawings and watercolours, the ones for The Hobbit having been published in his lifetime while his research sketches for other Middle-Earth narratives were not. The exhibitions held by the Oxford Weston Library in 2018 and by the BnF in 2019-2020, follow several retrospectives which have highlighted the graphic works of the author.

Variations of tone between the different tales being undeniable, a thorough study will question the influence of the writing style and focus of each text on the artworks, including on Tolkien’s own art.

In spite of the artists’ new publications over the last few years, their art has inspired more articles than substantial research studies. A thesis devoted to their production will shed light on the almost exhaustive work of illustration they have undertaken since the middle of the 20th century and the way Tolkien’s texts have permeated their careers.

Conferences and talks

Artists from Middle-earth: a 21st-century dive into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Secondary World

Saturday 13 February 2021

For its second online instalment, the Tolkien Society Seminar was a completely free event.
My paper – the first of the day – explores artists who present their art as coming from Middle-earth, rather than simply setting out to illustrate it. In discussion are Alan Lee, John Howe, Tómas Hijo, and Jay Johnstone.
The whole day was recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

Middle-earth in Paris : the BnF exhibition of 2019-2020

Saturday 19 September 2020

The first online version of Oxonmoot, the yearly convention of the Tolkien Society, took place between Friday 18 and Sunday 20 September.
On Saturday morning, I took the audience on a virtual tour of the « Tolkien: Voyage en Terre du Milieu » BnF exhibition that had taken place in Paris from October 2019 to February 2020. My talk started with a quick overview of Tolkien’s reception in France, went on to describe the exhibition and how it came to be, and ended with a note on the accompanying programme of conferences that took place alongside the event.

A complement to this talk is available on my PhD blog here.

"The other illustrated Silmarillion: Francis Mosley for the Folio Society"

Saturday 4 July 2020

The 2020 Tolkien Society Seminar has taken place online for the first time since its creation in 1986.
My paper focused on Francis Mosley’s illustrations for The Silmarillion (The Folio Society, 1997), paying particular attention to the way the artist created visuals to echo the previous editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for the Folio Society.
The whole day was recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

"Des illustrations en quête de sens : J.R.R. Tolkien et la Terre du Milieu"

Friday 20 March 2020

As part of the symposium entitled "The Frontiers of the image" at Paris-Est Créteil university, this talk was to explore the definition of illustrations, maps and graphic elements in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The symposium was postponed.

Interview with Alan Lee at the French national Library

Thursday 6 February 2020

The French national Library organized a series of conferences alongside its exhibition "Tolkien: Voyage en Terre du Milieu". This cycle came to a close on Thursday 6th February with an interview of Alan Lee, illustrator and artistic director whose work has contributed to putting Tolkien's words into pictures.

I had the honour and great pleasure of hosting the interview which was filmed and is available here (in French because two interpreters translated the whole discussion live for the audience wearing headphones) : 

Our conversation opened on a moving hommage to Christopher Tolkien by Vincent Ferré.

A transcript of the interview in English is available on my PhD blog:

"The circulation of visual motifs in illustrations of Middle-earth narratives: an echo of textual mobility"

Friday 18 October 2019

This talk, given as part of Evanghelia Stead's TIGRE seminar at the Paris Ecole normale supérieure, addressed the theme of the year: "transfers, exchanges, circulation".

I examined the circulation of texts such as Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin, and of illustrations by Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith, Eric Fraser and Tolkien himself. Studying illustrations for Middle-earth narratives thus implies to take into consideration images that found themselves transformed according to the book they featured in. In their turn, these images drew from both a visual and verbal substrate.

Talk : Tolkien and illustration

Friday 27 September 2019

A talk for a general audience given in a bookshop to celebrate the upcoming exhibition "Tolkien : Voyage en Terre du Milieu" and the numerous publications concerning Tolkien.

After a biographical sketch, I presented most of the books forming my corpus of anglophone illustrated editions of Middle-earth stories.

“Artists in Middle-earth: illustrating The Lord of the Rings“

Friday 09 August 2019

I gave this talk at Tolkien2019, the convention organized by the Tolkien Society in Birmingham in August 2019.

It consisted in a presentation of the two illustrated editions of The Lord of the Rings (by Ingahild Grathmer and Eric Fraser for the Folio Society in 1977, and by Alan Lee for HarperCollins in 1991), with a focus on text and image interactions.