Tolkien, perhaps rightly in marketing terms, though with the insistent literalism that makes writers writers (which is to say: not artists), demanded, of Barbara Remington's cover art for Lord of the Rings, "What has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a Lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with the pink bulbs?"
Fair questions, all, but they sound niggling, even querulous, to those of us who wandered footloose through Remington's otherworldly landscapes. In 1970-something, when the Tolkien cult was still going strong (at least, with me and my prog rock-fanboy Southern Californian friends), I was thunderstruck to spot, for sale in a strip-mall bookstore, a wall-sized poster comprising the three covers of the Ballantine LOTR paperbacks, which, when laid side by side, merged to form a sprawling tableaux of Middle Earth and its denizens, emus and all. Begging my mom for an advance on what seemed like a jillion allowances, I snapped up this mass-market masterpiece and promptly installed it on my bedroom wall where it enjoyed pride of place in a gallery of Bowie centerfolds from Creem magazine, Yes album covers by Roger Dean, and, too mortifying for words, the fantasy art of John Pitre, a Thomas Kinkade for the sword-and-sorcery set. In the world before the Web, the teen wall-of-posters-as-fan-shrine-and-doorway-to-immersive-fantasy was A Thing. In fact, it was our Web, in a sense.
How many like me whiled away their after-school hours, in the early '70s, mentally projecting themselves into Middle Earth with the aid of Remington's undeniably twee yet also alien illustrations? Even now, the uncanny power of these images hasn't completely dimmed; looking at Remington's study for the covers, the temptation to step through the frame, pick the low-hanging fruit of the Thing with the Pink Bulbs, and set off down the winding road by the lake, never to return, is almost irresistible. To this aging nostalgist (and, I suspect, many like me), £25,000.00 seems a small price for a portal between worlds.
J.R.R Tolkien, Original Ballantine Book Cover Concept Art, By Barbara Remington, as used on the 1965 The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings
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