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


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.


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


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


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


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

For anoth­er Sovi­et take on The Hob­bit, watch this 1985 TV adap­ta­tion.

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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Comments (9)
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  • Rain,adustbowlstory says:

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

  • Tobi says:

    Ian McK­ellen shared Jen­nifer K Cosham’s link

  • Wesley Anderson says:

    @ 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:

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


  • Barb says:

    Thank you for shar­ing these mem­o­ries, and the link to the Retro­naut page … 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.

  • Val says:

    I still have this book, sweet child­hood mem­o­ries :)

  • Polina Belomlinskaya says:

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

  • Polina Belomlinskaya says:

    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.

  • george says:

    For any­one inter­est­ed pret­ty much every illus­tra­tion of the book is pub­lished here or here

  • David S says:

    Sovi­et Union’s Raduga pub­li­ca­tions, Progress press and Mir pub­li­ca­tions did the ser­vice of bring­ing good lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence and pol­i­tics to mil­lions of not so rich peo­ple around the world. I am from Tamil Nadu, a south­ern state in India. But till 1995 (yes, even after the col­lapse of USSR), Sovi­et print­ed books were sold for a very cheap price in India. They even sold Tamil trans­la­tions of many books. Till now, I have at least 300+ Sovi­et books in my col­lec­tion. Com­pare this to USA or UK (who loot­ed India through Impe­ri­al­ism)! They con­tribute noth­ing for us while they bring in their stu­pid laws to crip­ple our edu­ca­tion and learn­ing. One thing the world needs bad­ly now is Com­mu­nism.

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