Illustrations of The Lord of the Rings in Russian Iconography Style (1993)

russian LOTR 1

Giv­en the detail with which J.R.R. Tolkien describes his fan­tas­ti­cal yet earth­i­ly ground­ed char­ac­ters and land­scapes, you’d think illus­tra­tors would have an easy time putting pic­tures to the words. You might even assume that any artist who tried his or her hand at the job would pro­duce more or less the same visu­al inter­pre­ta­tion. And yet the his­to­ry of illus­trat­ed edi­tions of The Hob­bit and the Lord of the Rings tril­o­gy has­n’t gone that way at all. Dif­fer­ent pub­lish­ers at dif­fer­ent times and dif­fer­ent places have com­mis­sioned very styl­is­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent things. We have shown you exam­ples of Tolkien’s Per­son­al Book Cov­er Designs for The Lord of the Rings Tril­o­gy as well as what Where the Wild Things Are author Mau­rice Sendak could come up with. And, in March, we fea­tured a play­ful­ly visu­al­ized Sovi­et LOTR edi­tion from 1976. Now, take a look at the large set of images here, pulled from a 1993 edi­tion illus­trat­ed by Sergey Yuhi­mov (more infor­ma­tion, albeit in Russ­ian, here and here), and you’ll get the sense that the Rus­sians may have a knack for visu­al­iz­ing the goings-on of Mid­dle-Earth.

russian LOTR2

Still, the illus­tra­tions from Rus­si­a’s Hob­bit and almost 30-years-new­er Lord of the Rings could hard­ly share less of a sen­si­bil­i­ty. A Metafil­ter post on the lat­ter draw a num­ber of attempt­ed descrip­tions by Tolkien fans: “LOTR trans­lat­ed almost as Chris­t­ian iconog­ra­phy.” “They leap around about 1000 years of art his­to­ry.” “Mad, but also charm­ing.” “They would make great tarot cards.”

Objec­tions may arise to the accu­ra­cy of the char­ac­ters por­trayed — as always — as well as the artist’s adher­ence (or lack there­of) to the traits of one peri­od of art or anoth­er, but we can hard­ly ignore what an aes­thet­ic impact these illus­tra­tions make even just on first glance. Some of the Metafil­ter com­menters express their wish­es for The Adven­tures of Huck­le­ber­ry Finn (“used in Russ­ian pri­ma­ry school cur­ric­u­la, or was dur­ing the Com­mu­nist era”) illus­trat­ed this way, or maybe a Lord of the Rings “in the style of Hierony­mus Bosch.” But from these vivid, styl­is­ti­cal­ly Medieval, reli­gious-icon-sat­u­rat­ed images, I per­son­al­ly take away one con­clu­sion: when the idea first came to find a direc­tor to bring Tolkien to the screen, they real­ly should’ve hired Andrei Tarkovsky.

You can see a gallery of images in four parts: Part 1 — Part 2Part 3, Part 4.

Our thanks go to @zeljka8 for help­ing find back­ground infor­ma­tion for these illus­tra­tions.

LOTR 4.1

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

Two Beau­ti­ful­ly-Craft­ed Russ­ian Ani­ma­tions of Chekhov’s Clas­sic Children’s Sto­ry “Kash­tan­ka”

Watch Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Win­nie the Pooh, Cre­at­ed by the Inno­v­a­tive Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Elisa says:

    Those ilus­tra­tions, like that, make the Mid­dle-Earth sound not a place in time, as a won­der but a place in space as a real­i­ty *-* A big thank you Collin Mar­shall for this post, and of course, all the oth­ers ^^

  • Tim Fisher says:

    These are far from any­thing like Russ­ian icono­graph­ic style… They are more Celtic illu­mi­na­tions or West­ern Medieval or even Armen­ian in style!

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