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Interview with John Howe

Ethan Gilsdorf at Boing Boing has published an extensive interview with Tolkien artist John Howe on his role with The Hobbit films.

John Howe has been a conceptual designer on both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings film trilogies. But Howe is well-known to Tolkien fans for providing the artwork for the covers of numerous Tolkien books as well as numerous calendars.

In the interview, Howe recognises the challenging in marrying The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings:

I think that treating The Hobbit as a different universe, a lighter, more whimsical children’s book kind of universe, would have actually been to stray from what Tolkien might have intended had he not written The Hobbit first. […] His elves, for example, gathered depth and gravitas as Middle-earth evolved. The Hobbit offers us a child’s-eye view of the world, complete with merry, almost fairy-like elves. People would have been quite dismayed to go to Rivendell and see the elves as Tolkien described them in The Hobbit. […] I think it made perfect sense without even really, really considering it very, very, very deeply to want to expand that universe of The Lord of the Rings into The Hobbit and not the opposite.

Talking about The Hobbit more broadly, Howe says:

The style of The Hobbit is like a bright dust jacket on a solemn book. The Hobbit is full of serious themes. It’s not a cheery fairy-tale world, even if whimsy and light fantasy are present, at least nominally. […] And the whole back story with the dwarves, which is only lightly touched upon in The Hobbit, appears in the appendices to Lord of the Rings as far more serious material than just a bedtime story for grandchildren. So everything is there, but when told in that grandfatherly way, makes it seem like a very different story. It’s hard to avoid mistaking narration for content at times.

The interview was conducted last year and so talks about the them upcoming Desolation of Smaug film:

Radagast’s house was the first step into brand new territory, but it’s not even in the book. Curiously enough, it felt very, very, VERY Hobbit-like, as opposed to Lord of the Rings. It felt whimsical and light, a bit odd and a bit strange, with an odd shamanistic quality to it. Radagast is very much a shamanistic figure himself, so that environment ended up reflecting his quirky personality.

He also talks about his relationship with Alan Lee, the other conceptual artist who has provided the illustrations for editions of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings:

Curiously enough, you’d think we’d be drawing blades at every turn. Initially we would both do concept work for all of the environments, and Peter would choose what he liked out of that. And then once we’d found our theme it was really more of a question of who was available to work on what, because there was such a lot to do.

To read the full interview visit Boing Boing: Meet the man who re-made Middle-earth.

About the Author: Shaun Gunner
Shaun is the Chair of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2013, Shaun regularly speaks about adaptations of Tolkien's works whilst passionately believing the Society needs to reach out to new audiences. In his spare time can be found in the cinema, playing video games and Lego, or on Twitter.