Illustrations Of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit from the Soviet Union (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 Mash­able.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in March, 2015

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:

The Largest J.R.R. Tolkien Exhib­it in Gen­er­a­tions Is Com­ing to the U.S.: Orig­i­nal Draw­ings, Man­u­scripts, Maps & More

Hear J.R.R. Tolkien Read from The Lord of the Rings and The Hob­bit in Vin­tage Record­ings from the Ear­ly 1950s

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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  • Mark Sydney says:

    I am sure the author will acknowl­edge that Bil­bo Bag­gins has an uncan­ny resem­blance to Sovi­et actor Yevge­ny Leonov. Also, I would love to know who the illus­tra­tor was. The plates remind me of book illus­tra­tions done by an acquain­tance of mine, Yuri Ger­shkovitz, dur­ing the years I worked in Moscow in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

  • Patomas says:

    I love read­ing your blog every morn­ing to start off the day, but in this case I feel you gener­ilised a bit attribut­ing the images to just “the typ­i­cal Russ­ian style”.
    I missed read­ing about the author of the pieces. Much can be attrib­uted to an illus­tra­tor’s par­tic­u­lar style and how that can influ­ence a nation­al, polit­i­cal, or his­tor­i­cal aes­thet­ics.

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