Re: [mythsoc] Article about Sendak's _Hobbit_
In this article, Tony DiTerlizzi has dug up some new facts (at least
new to me) about the never-completed project:
< http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011/03/25/the-hobbit-illustrated-by-maurice-sendak-the-1960s-masterpiece-that-could-have-been/?dlvrit=63378 >
Sendak may interpret events in this way - and it is his interpretation, we heard him tell this story at a conference - but archival evidence says otherwise. According to the article, Houghton Mifflin invited Sendak to illustrate The Hobbit 'in the late 1960s', and it implies that the only hurdle to this was Tolkien, who in 1967 'was still overseeing his Middle-earth empire'. In fact, Sendak and Houghton Mifflin agreed on a contract in 1964, and Sendak asked for a couple of years to do the work. (Virgil Finlay had been considered for this job the previous year, but seems to have dropped out.) Tolkien had evidently agreed to the terms Sendak had negotiated, which involved a lower royalty for the author on the new edition, and far from 'overseeing' the matter, he left it to his British and American publishers to conduct. Sendak may have made sample drawings 'begrudgingly', but they seem to have been expected of him by all concerned, especially since he appears not to have produced anything for The Hobbit until the beginning of 1967.
The article also states that Houghton Mifflin 'prepared the art samples for Tolkiens approval', misidentifying wood-elves as hobbits in one of two finished images. But the correspondence between Houghton Mifflin and Allen & Unwin in January-February 1937 clearly refers to only one image that was sent by Austin Olney at Houghton Mifflin, received by Joy Hill at Allen & Unwin, and shown to Tolkien by Rayner Unwin: the picture of Gandalf and Bilbo. Tolkien saw it on 16 February 1967, and on 20 February Rayner wrote to Houghton Mifflin that Tolkien was not 'wildly happy about the proportions of the figures', Bilbo being too large relative to Gandalf. There is no indication that Tolkien saw a picture of dancing wood-elves, so any mislabeling 'blunder' made by Houghton Mifflin was of no consequence. Nor is there any evidence of a reply by Tolkien 'that Sendak had not read the book closely and did not know what a hobbit was', though this is certainly suggested by the sample drawing.
Wayne & Christina
- I like Sendak's earlier work (and this is a bit of throwback in his style even for 1967), and I think it's a charming illustration despite the textual problems that have been pointed out with it. I consider it unfortunate that there was no opportunity to persuade Sendak to be a little more faithful to the book and get on with the whole project. (He should not have done LOTR, though, as the article suggested he should. A very different story, and not appropriate for this style of illustration.)
I like Sendak's earlier work (and this is a bit of throwback in his style even for 1967), and I think it's a charming illustration despite the textual problems that have been pointed out with it.
It would have been interesting to see a Sendak-illustrated Hobbit. I too admire his earlier work - Christina and I have many of his books, and most of the literature about him.
I consider it unfortunate that there was no opportunity to persuade Sendak to be a little more faithful to the book and get on with the whole project.
I'm sure that this would have happened, if not for Sendak's massive heart attack in May 1967. Tolkien's unhappiness with the sample drawing wouldn't have killed the project outright.