Pauline Baynes and J.R.R. Tolkien

Pauline Diana Baynes (9 September 1922 – 1 August 2008) was an English illustrator whose work can be found in more than one hundred books, notably several by J. R. R. Tolkien.

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Pauline Baynes was born in Hove, East Sussex. She spent much of her childhood in Farnham, studying at the Farnham School of Art (now the University for the Creative Arts) and eventually attended the Slade School of Fine Art.

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She worked for the Ministry of Defence, where she was soon transferred to a map-making department, and where she acquired skills that she later employed when she drew maps of Middle-Earth for J. R. R. Tolkien.

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In her obituary for The Daily Telegraph, Charlotte Cory described how Baynes and Tolkien came to be associated:

‘In 1948 Tolkien was visiting his publishers, George Allen & Unwin, to discuss some disappointing artwork that they had commissioned for his novella Farmer Giles of Ham, when he spotted, lying on a desk, some witty reinterpretations of medieval marginalia from the Luttrell Psalter that greatly appealed to him. These, it turned out, had been sent to the publishers ‘on spec’ by the then-unknown Pauline Baynes. Tolkien demanded that the creator of these drawings be set to work illustrating Farmer Giles of Ham and was delighted with the subsequent results, declaring that ‘Pauline Baynes has reduced my text to a commentary on her drawings’. Further collaboration between Tolkien and his Farmer Giles illustrator followed, and a lifelong friendship developed…’

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Tolkien wanted Pauline Baynes to illustrate The Lord of the Rings, but the book grew into a huge project that made that particular plan impractical. Nevertheless, Baynes created immaculately drawn and exquisitely coloured versions of the author’s maps of the lands travelled by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

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Baynes’ also designed a slipcase for the three volumes of Tolkien’s epic:

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The slipcase illustrations were later adapted for the cover for the original one-volume 1973 paperback edition – an indispensable prop of the seventies generation – with its evocative landscape of Middle-Earth viewed through a doorway of yellow, over-arching trees.

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The same designs were used for the 1981 three volumes edition.

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Eventually, a drawing by Pauline Baynes was used to illustrate Tolkien’s final hobbit piece, the poem, Bilbo’s Last Song:

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which appeared as a poster in 1974:

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and then as a book in 1990:

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Pauline Baynes was for a long while the only Tolkien illustrator of note.

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Her work was approved by Tolkien himself, but faded from view as the Tolkien industry began to expand in the late seventies and other artists quickly crowded the field, many of whom lacked Pauline Baynes’ subtlety and sympathy for the material.

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Pauline Baynes and J.R.R. Tolkien

© R J Dent 2016

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