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Selections from The Annotated Hobbit

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In Biography, Humphrey Carpenter relates the story that Tolkien, during his walking tour of Switzerland in the summer of 1911, purchased some picture postcards, one of which was a reproduction of a painting of an old man with a red cloak and a long white beard, seated under a tree and nuzzling a fawn.

In Biography, Humphrey Carpenter relates the story that Tolkien, during his walking tour of Switzerland in the summer of 1911, purchased some picture postcards, one of which was a reproduction of a painting of an old man with a red cloak and a long white beard, seated under a tree and nuzzling a fawn. It is entitled Der Berggeist and signed J. Madelener (see illustration on page 38). Carpenter records that Tolkien "preserved this postcard carefully, and long afterwards he wrote on the paper cover in which he kept it: 'Origin of Gandalf' " (p. 51).

Carpenter is mistaken on a few points, for the artist's name is not Madelener but Madlener, and the painting dates not from 1911 (or earlier) but from the latter half of the 1920s. Josef Madlener (1881-1967) was a German artist and illustrator born near Memmingen. His work appeared in various newspapers, magazines, and a few children's Christmas books with religious themes, like Das Christkind Kommt (1929) and Das Buch vom Christkind (1938). Madlener's Christmas art also appeared in several postcard series.

For his article "The Origin of Gandalf and Josef Madlener" in Mythlore, Winter 1983 (9, no. 4; whole no. 34), Manfred Zimmermann interviewed the artist's daughter Julie (born 1910), who distinctly remembered her father painting Der Berggeist sometime after 1925-26. She also noted that the postcard version was "published in the late twenties by Ackermann Verlag München, in a folder with three or four similar pictures with motifs drawn from German mythology: a fairy lady of the woods, a deer carrying a shining cross between its antlers, 'Rübezahl' (a fairy tale character), and possibly one more" (p. 22).

The monograph Josef Madlener 1881 bis 1967 (1981), written by Eduard Raps and published in Memmingen for the artist's centenary, shows a good sampling of Madlener's art, which went through various phases. It is clear by the similarities in style that the painting Der Berggeist belongs to the period around 1925-30.


From The Annotated Hobbit by Douglas A. Anderson, published by Houghton Mifflin Company 2002. Introduction and annotations © 2002 by Douglas A. Anderson, All rights reserved.



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