Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Hobbit - Judging a Book by its Cover

As my previous post mentioned I just received the J.R.R. Tolkien collection of Easton books. They are all bound in a deep green leather with gold gilded lettering. The font choice and colouring seems quite appropriate for a Tolkien book, being playful yet old looking. The full title is on the front, The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Above the title are a set of dwarven runes from Thror's map of the Lonely Mountain. These are the runes that Elrond reads by the light of the moon, I can't recall their exact name but the top set reads roughly, "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush kn" and the bottom set reads "Of Durin's day will shine upon the keyhole". The same set of runes top and bottom appear on the back cover. I'm pleased that Easton decided to incorporate the dwarven runes into their cover design, but it is unfortunate that they chose a long piece of text and had to cut the middle out of it. For those who are curious, the full text that they are quoting is "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the light of Durin's day will shine upon the keyhole". Its a line that is pretty integral to the plot but its too bad that it got cut in the middle, perhaps they could have had it continue on to the back so the whole phrase would fit or use the other shorter dwarven quote from the map, "Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast - Th. Th." This would likely have fit on the cover and could have been repeated on the back. At the bottom of the cover is a rune resembling the "Th" rune with two dots on other sides surrounded by a box. I do not recognise this rune and if anyone has any insight into what this represents please let me know in the comments. Along the spine of the book is written "The Hobbit" followed by the above mystery rune and J.R.R. Tolkien.

All of the pages are covered in 22kt gilding which looks quite nice but is a bit difficult to handle while reading because I am constantly worried about rubbing it off with my fingers or with whatever I am using to support the book. The book also has a silk ribbon bookmark, which is also a nice feature that can become annoying as the bookmark is longer than the book itself and as a result when it is placed you need to tuck in the excess ribbon into another page of the book which can be cumbersome while trying to maintain the gilding on the page edges.

The front and back inside covers are moire fabric with a nice sheen that is pleasant to the touch. Just inside the moire on the first page is an additional signed sketch by Michael Hague that was added after market. Michael Hague is a very popular illustrator of Tolkien and other fantasy works. In this case his sketch is a profile of Gandalf's head with typical hat and long beard. The signature appears on the left side of Gandalf's hat. I have searched on line and the signature and style of sketch are very typical of Michael Hague and I doubt forgery although I'm not really an expert on the topic. The frontispiece illustration, by Michael Hague is an image of some of the 13 dwarves (I couldn't tell you who is who as I tend to forget the combination of hood colour and character name whenever I read this book) as well as Gandalf and Bilbo with the Lonely Mountain off in the distance. Perhaps the illustration is from the north side of the Long Lake just before the dwarves cross the desolation of Smaug to reach the mountain. It is a lovely illustration on glossy paper though the colours seem somewhat muted, perhaps by design.

The interior title page says The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated by the Author, Frontispiece by Michael Hague, The Easton Press Norwalk, Connecticut. The copyright is from 1966 with the permission of Houghton Mifflin, with the frontispiece copyright 1984. As an aside, as a Canadian I was unable to order this book directly from Easton Press because they do not have distribution rights to Canada. I'm not sure if Houghton Mifflin retained distribution rights to Canada or perhaps another firm owned the rights in Canada and was unwilling to deal with Easton. The table of contents contains 19 chapters, which I will try to document as I read them. Following the table of contents is a green map (Thror's map) of the Lonely Mountain and surrounding areas likely illustrated by Tolkien himself. It contains both the normal runes quoted above as well as the moon runes also quoted above. The normal runes are linked to the D rune on the western side of the lonely mountain. Another curious quality of the map is that the top of the map points East rather than North, apparently this is traditional among dwarvish maps in Middle Earth. Unfortunately a small section of the map gets swallowed up by the binding as it goes across two pages rather than one.

Just before chapter 1 is a one page introduction by Tolkien dealing with the differences between English as presented in this book and English as traditionally written. Dwarves and dwarvish are particularly singled out as opposed to the traditional dwarf and dwarfish, we have to wait until the Lord of the Rings to learn exactly why there is this difference. Orcs are also mentioned as different from orca or whale, which I doubt many people familiar with fantasy literature would confuse today but perhaps when Tolkien first wrote this book it was a likely confusion as fantasy was not in the vibrant state that it is now, no doubt due to a significant contribution from Tolkien himself. This introduction also goes through the various runes found on the map as well as an explanation of letters that may have runes that are not used on the map. I have read that Tolkien often received letters written in dwarvish runes and elven script. I wonder if he ever wrote back in the same. Well I suppose that is all for now before I begin reading the first chapter.Very pleased with the book so far.

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