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You are in: Devon > People > Profiles > Alan's return to Middle Earth

An Alan Lee drawing from The Children of Hurin

Alan Lee/Harper Collins

Alan's return to Middle Earth

Dartmoor-based artist Alan Lee has provided the illustrations for a brand new JRR Tolkien book.

Alan Lee seems to have cornered the market when it comes to providing the imagery to go with the words of JRR Tolkien.

Alan, who works from his cottage on Dartmoor, illustrated the special centenary edition of Lord of the Rings in 1992.

His drawings caught the eye of film-maker Peter Jackson, who signed Alan up to provide the artwork for the sets of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

So when a brand new Tolkien book emerged, Alan seemed the natural choice as illustrator.

The new book is called The Children of Húrin, and it's Tolkien's oldest story of Middle Earth. It is set 6,000 years before everyone's favourite hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, lived.

Alan Lee

Moor inspiration - Alan Lee at work at home

Tolkien started writing the book towards the end of the First World War, but it never became a finished article. Until now, more than 30 years after his death.

His son, Christopher, studied the manuscripts and edited his father's words into what he describes as "a coherent narrative without any editorial invention."

The book contains elves, orcs, a dragon - and people. But there are no hobbits as they did not inhabit Middle Earth at the time.

The story is very much darker than Tolkien's later works, and may lack the 'feel-good' factor needed for a Hollywood blockbuster.

For Alan, it was a return to Tolkien's mythical world of Middle Earth which he hadn't expected.

"I'd almost forgotten about the experience of working on the films," he told BBC Devon.

"I thought that might be the final swansong of my Tolkien years, but then this other book appeared.

Cover of the book

The book cover. Alan Lee/Harper Collins

"I think it was a surprise to the publishers as well. Christopher Tolkien had been working on it for many years but hadn't really talked about it. Finally, about a year ago, he said 'I've got a little something extra here.'

"And it turned out to be The Children of Húrin, which was a book which his father had started writing when he was about 19 or 20.

"So really, Christopher Tolkien has completed the wish of JRR Tolkien to finally see this book in production.

"But all the words are JRR Tolkien's words. Christopher has merely compiled them and made sense of them - and it's very exciting."

Alan conjured up the images in his head, while reading the book: "I did one intensive, scrutinising read and then it's just constantly going back to individual passages to make sure I've understood correctly. That's the way it usually is with books that I do.

"Of course, we didn't have the author with us any longer, but Christopher Tolkien knows that world better than anyone else and I was able to talk to him at length about some of the scenes, and to try to fulfil his wishes for the book as well."

Alan has done eight colour drawings, together with 25 black and white pieces for the chapter headings - plus the front cover.

And he's very pleased with the end result: "The book is very beautiful and there is a deluxe edition, which is a real treasure I think."

Alan is now illustrating a reworking of Ovid's Metamorphoses, stories from Greek mythology retold for children and written by poet and writer Adrian Mitchell.

"So I'm recreating the world of classic mythology in the heart of Devon," said Alan.

* The Children of Húrin is published by Harper Collins, price £18.99. It was published on 16 April 2007.

last updated: 10/04/2008 at 11:30
created: 18/04/2007

You are in: Devon > People > Profiles > Alan's return to Middle Earth

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