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Selections from The Annotated Hobbit

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Rescue by the eagles.

Rescue by the eagles. Illustration by Virgil Finlay. Beginning in January 1963, Tolkien's American publisher, Houghton Mifflin, solicited sample illustrations for The Hobbit from some prominent American artists in hope of producing a sumptuous illustrated edition. Virgil Finlay (1914-1971) had begun his career in 1935 by illustrating stories in the legendary magazine Weird Tales and soon thereafter was illustrating for many of the prominent science fiction magazines, until the bust in magazine publishing in the mid-1950s limited his market. Finlay's sample illustration for The Hobbit was sent to Tolkien via his British publisher, to whom he replied on October 11, 1963:

Though it gives prospects of a general treatment rather heavier and more violent and airless than I should like, I thought it was good, and actually I thought Bilbo's rather rotund and babyish (but anxious) face was in keeping with his character up to that point. After the horrors of the "illustrations" to the translations [of The Hobbit] Mr. Finlay is a welcome relief. As long (as seems likely) he will leave humour to the text and pay reasonable attention to what the text says, I expect I shall be quite happy.

Unfortunately Finlay was not called on to illustrate The Hobbit. His sample illustration was first published posthumously in Gerry de la Ree's The Book of Virgil Finlay (1975).

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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