The Lord of the Rings/Original dust-jacket designs

From Tolkien Gateway

These are the "final" drawings by J.R.R. Tolkien for the dust-jacket covers for the first edition of The Lord of the Rings, drawn in early 1954.[1] Preliminary sketches of them are published in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator.

Because of cost, Allen & Unwin preferred a single design for all three volumes, based on the design for Volume 1, but simplified, with variations in color for each volume.[2]

The original designs were eventually adapted for the 1998 HarperCollins three-volume edition, with new lettering.[2]

Volume 1[edit | edit source]

Original design for Volume 1

The One Ring with the Eye of Sauron appears at the centre; around it is written in red Tengwar the Ring inscription in the Black Speech; between the stylized flames of the Ring inscription is placed the red-jewelled Ring of Fire, the Elven-ring Narya worn by Gandalf, facing its red stone towards the One Ring, symbolizing opposition to Sauron; while at a distance below are the Rings of Water and Air with their blue and white gems, the Elven-rings Vilya and Nenya worn by Elrond and Galadriel, also with their stones pointed in opposition to Sauron.[1]

A simplified version of this design, with only Narya appearing on the lower side, was eventually used for all three volumes of the first edition, with the title in type. The motif was used in a smaller scale for the second 1966 edition.[2]

Volume 2[edit | edit source]

J.R.R. Tolkien - The Two Towers.jpg

The two towers, Minas Morgul and Orthanc, appear on either side of the One Ring, which is accompanied by an English text in Tengwar: "In the la[n]d of Mordor where the shadows lie". At left, the Nine Rings are clustered against Minas Morgul, the headquarters of the Nazgûl. At right, Orthanc, the stronghold of Saruman, is drawn like welded piers of stone. A Nazgûl is flying above the blood-red Ring. The moon above Minas Morgul may refer to the earlier name of the tower before it was taken by Sauron's forces: Minas Ithil, Tower of the Moon, once fair and radiant, but now with its light "paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse" (book IV, chapter 8). This notion is reinforced by a drawing of an eclipse below Minas Morgul in the lower panel. Above Orthanc is now a five-pointed star, like a wizard's pentacle; in the space below is the White Hand of Saruman, its edge and fingertips coloured blood-red.[1]

Volume 3[edit | edit source]

J.R.R. Tolkien - The Return of the King.jpg

The designs for this cover appropriately include elements associated with Aragorn and his Númenorean heritage:

Drawn and painted on black paper, the circular throne of Gondor awaits the return of the King. Against this, above the green seat, is the winged crown of Gondor and, in Tengwar, the initials "L. ND. L.", the monogram of Elendil, the first High King of Gondor and Arnor. Some of his words upon coming to Middle-earth, "Sinome maruvan ar hildinyar tenn' ambar-metta" ("In this place I will abide and my heirs until the World's end"), are inscribed in Tengwar at left and right; they are repeated by Aragorn at his coronation. The wings on each side are presumably part of the throne, though they are not mentioned in the description in the book. Below the throne is a green jewel, the Elfstone, which represents the coming of the new King, Elessar, the "Elfstone". Above the throne, but not wholly behind it (one of the roots is in front of the circle) is the White Tree of Gondor with seven flowers, and the Seven Stars — the emblem of Elendil and his heirs.[1]

Just visible at the top of the drawing, behind the throne, is the dark figure of Sauron , his long arm stretched out over mountains. Painted black on black, lit only by streaks of red from the eruption of Mount Doom, it is difficult to see, but the figure seems to be dissolving, and may have been meant to evoke the scene when Sauron was finally destroyed.[1] The figure is similar to another unfinished sketch by Tolkien.

The design was adapted for the 1969 one-volume deluxe edition of The Lord of the Rings.[2]