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

The Fellowship Of The Ring Book Cover by JRR Tolkien_1-480

In some rare cases, adaptations and interpretations of a literary work can surpass the source. Despite hundreds of valiant efforts on the part of fans, filmmakers, game/toy designers, and radio producers, this has never been true of the fully-realized fantasy world in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (not that it’s ever been anyone’s intent). As we noted in a post last week, Tolkien’s fictional world is so intricate, its sources so vast and varied, that Corey Olsen, “The Tolkien Professor,” has made it his entire life’s work to open that world up to students and curious readers, most recently with his eight-part lecture series on The Hobbit.

The Two Towers Book Cover by JRR Tolkien_1-480

One might also add illustrators to the list of Tolkien interpreters above who have—in the almost eighty years since The Hobbit’s publication and sixty years since the first appearance of The Lord of the Rings trilogy—done their best to visualize Tolkien’s world. But perhaps no one did so better than the master himself. Long known as a visual artist as well as a literary one, Tolkien left behind over 100 illustrations for The Hobbit, one of which adorns 2011’s HarperCollins 75th anniversary edition of the book. He also created these original cover designs for each book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Return Of The King Book Cover by JRR Tolkien_1-480


In the long and complex publication history of Tolkien’s most famous of works, it’s unclear if these designs ever made it onto books published during his lifetime, but the sigil in the center of The Fellowship of the Ring design (left), with its ominous eye of Sauron surrounded by elvish runes and topped by the one ring, did grace the elegant, minimalist covers of the first edition of the trilogy. Tolkien’s artwork received a thorough treatment in a 1995 monograph J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, which covers over 60 years of Tolkien’s life as an artist, and the magic of flickr brings us this compendium of Tolkien illustrations.

Related Content: 

Listen to J.R.R. Tolkien Read Poems from The Fellowship of the Ring, in Elvish and English (1952)

The Art of the Book Cover Explained at TED

Vladimir Nabokov Marvels Over Different “Lolita” Book Covers

Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Cover for On the Road

Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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Comments (10)
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  • Johan Barstad says:


    Thank you for interesting article. Just thought I’d make it known to you that the Danish Queen Margrethe 2. in 1977 illustrated a danish edition of Lord of the Rings under the pseudonym of Ingahild Grathmer. The danish queen is known for her work in arts.

    Kind regards
    Johan Barstad

  • Jem Hammond says:

    Um, I don’t usually bother with being a Tolkien geek, but….. the “sigil” design is not “topped” by the One Ring. The One is the plain band surrounding the Eye. The jewelled ring being drawn towards it through the flames is one of the other, subject rings – which makes the whole design even more meaningful.

  • joanne turano says:

    Hello thank you I’m enjoying your messages, peace joanne

  • joanne turano says:

    I’ve been a Tolkien fan a since I was a tying girl, I’m not such a young girl any longer.I am enjoying learning more about the books and about the man who wrote them.What a incredible, fascinating man! Thank you for sharing your knowledge about JRR Tolkien and the incredible books he wrote, peace joanne

  • joanne turano says:

    Well, sorry been a fan since I was a young girl..

  • Andrew Lundy says:

    Jem is correct. From the initial cover design it looks like the One Ring is surrounded by the three Elven rings. The reddish one on top is likely Narya, the Ring of Fire wielded by Gandalf.

  • mir Reza says:

    orginal cover ?????

  • Mark O'Neill says:

    As a tribute to Tolkien, they should reissue the books with these exact cover designs.

  • Bob Smith says:


  • Johannes Cuparius says:

    More famous is the series Tolkien painted which appeared on the 1970s version’s covers: Hobbiton-Across-the-Water, Fangorn Forest, & Barad-Dur.

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