Soviet-Era Illustrations Of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1976)

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Until I read J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, my favorite book growing up was, by far, The Hobbit. Growing up in Russia, however, meant that instead of Tolkien’s English version, my parents read me a Russian translation. To me, the translation easily matched the pace and wonder of Tolkien’s original. Looking back, The Hobbit probably made such an indelible impression on me because Tolkien’s tale was altogether different than the Russian fairy tales and children’s stories that I had previously been exposed to. There were no childish hijinks, no young protagonists, no parents to rescue you when you got into trouble. I considered it an epic in the truest literary sense.

As with many Russian translations during the Cold War, the book came with a completely different set of illustrations. Mine, I remember regretting slightly, lacked pictures altogether. A friend’s edition, however, was illustrated in the typical Russian style: much more traditionally stylized than Tolkien’s own drawings, they were more angular, friendlier, almost cartoonish. In this post, we include a number of these images from the 1976 printing. The cover, above, depicts a grinning Bilbo Baggins holding a gem. Below, Gandalf, an ostensibly harmless soul, pays Bilbo a visit.

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Next, we have the three trolls, arguing about their various eating arrangements, with Bilbo hiding to the side.

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Here, Gollum, née Smeagol, paddles his raft in the depths of the mountains.

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Finally, here’s Bilbo, fulfilling his role as a burglar in Smaug’s lair.

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For more of the Soviet illustrations of The Hobbit, head on over to Retronaut.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writing at the Huffington Post.

Related Content:

Listen to J.R.R. Tolkien Read a Lengthy Excerpt from The Hobbit (1952)

Download a Free Course on The Hobbit by “The Tolkien Professor,” Corey Olsen

Discover J.R.R. Tolkien’s Personal Book Cover Designs for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Only Drawing from Maurice Sendak’s Short-Lived Attempt to Illustrate The Hobbit



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  1. Rain,adustbowlstory says . . . | March 11, 2014 / 8:31 am

    Say what you like, that’s quite a Gollum.

  2. Dan Colman says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 8:54 am

    Hi there,

    Just curious, anyone know what Facebook page highlighted our post today? Thanks for any info.
    Cheers,
    Dan/editor

  3. Tobi says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 8:57 am

    Ian McKellen shared Jennifer K Cosham’s link

  4. Wesley Anderson says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 9:03 am

    @ Dan Colman, the site which shared your post was the official Facebook page of Ian Mckellen, via Jennifer K Cosham, who can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/jenniearcheo

    Hope this helps! Otherwise, thank you so much for the article, a fascinating read!

    Regards,
    Wesley

  5. Dan Colman says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 9:08 am

    Nice, thanks for letting me know!
    Dan

  6. Barb says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 9:57 am

    Thank you for sharing these memories, and the link to the Retronaut page http://bit.ly/1gxRoth … the final picture on that page looks like something from the Bayeux Tapestry!

    The Hobbit was also my first and still my favourite Tolkien book.

  7. Val says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 9:44 pm

    I still have this book, sweet childhood memories :)

  8. Len says . . . | March 20, 2014 / 9:02 am

    Now those are some interesting looking illustration. Bilbo apparently doesn’t need pants with those hairy legs, haha.

    And got here from a Tumblr post.

  9. Polina Belomlinskaya says . . . | March 20, 2014 / 9:36 am

    Thank you so much for writing this. My grandfather will love that his illustrations are being blogged about in English. :)

  10. Polina Belomlinskaya says . . . | March 20, 2014 / 11:48 am

    Just in case anyone is interested, my grandfather illustrated this book. His name is Mikhail Belomlinsky. He illustrated countless soviet era children’s books until immigrating to New York City in 1989. Also, it may be of interest to your readers that this edition of the Hobbit, with these exact illustrations has recently been republished in Russia. Thank you again for posting this.

  11. george says . . . | July 20, 2014 / 10:06 pm

    For anyone interested pretty much every illustration of the book is published here http://kidpix.livejournal.com/1044682.html or here http://bookmix.ru/blogs/note.phtml?id=8199

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