Pauline Baynes, 1922–2008


Pauline Baynes, who died earlier this week, was for a long while the only Tolkien illustrator of note. Her work was approved by Tolkien himself but faded from view as the JRRT spin-off industry began to expand in the late Seventies and other artists quickly crowded the field, many of whom lacked her subtlety and sympathy for the material. It was her artwork which Allen & Unwin used on their single-volume edition of Lord of the Rings and in the late Sixties they also produced a poster of her Middle Earth map (above; complete version here). That poster hung on my bedroom wall and fascinated me with its view of the now over-familiar characters and the vignette details of various locations.


Those vignettes, such as her tiny rendering of Sauron’s Dark Tower, seemed at the time a perfect summation of Tolkien’s world and I still prefer her hulking Barad-dûr to the spiny monolith seen in Peter Jackson’s films. Her friendship with Tolkien led to a similar commission for maps and illustrations from CS Lewis and it’s as the illustrator of the Narnia books that she’s most celebrated. I never read Lewis’s work, and came to Lord of the Rings late, so the infatuation with this brand of heroic fantasy swiftly gave way to the ambivalent moralities of Michael Moorcock‘s Elric, Fritz Leiber‘s Lankhmar and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. Her work wouldn’t have suited those writers but for Tolkien and Lewis she was ideal.


The Fellowship of the Ring from the Middle Earth map.

One of the newspaper obituaries notes:

It was somewhat to her chagrin that she developed a reputation over the years as an illustrator of mostly Christian works and, to redress the balance, one of her last creations (her “children” as she called them) was a series of designs for selections from the Qur’an, scheduled for publication in 2009.

These days Charles Williams is the writer who interests me still from the Oxford group known as “the Inklings”, of whom Tolkien and Lewis were the most famous members. Williams was also a Christian propagandist but his use of fantasy was more sophisticated and, in the extraordinary Many Dimensions (1931), he too managed to depart from the Christian sphere by blending HG Wells-style science fantasy with Islamic mysticism.

Brian Sibley wrote a Pauline Baynes obituary for The Independent and his blog features an excellent overview of her life and work.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput

11 thoughts on “Pauline Baynes, 1922–2008”

  1. I have both the single volume Allen & Unwin LOtR, and a box set of the Narnia books illustrated by her. Sad news indeed! I’m glad she continued to work and had such a long life and career.

  2. I remember that Narnia box, a friend of mine had it. I liked the covers even if I wasn’t so interested in the books!

    And yes, I was surprised when I was searching for her work a while ago to discover she’d done so much, it always seemed she’d vanished but that’s mainly because I wasn’t looking for the kind of books she was illustrating. Outside Narnia fandom, she does seem rather neglected which doesn’t seem right, she was a really great illustrator. VTS has a magazine cover of hers which shows how well she could fare away from fantasy fiction.

  3. Her illustrations were a huge part of my childhood too, from the Narnia books firstly and later from Tolkien and an edition of Fairy Tales of the British Isles. I loved the detail and sharpness of these illustrations, and I suspect that my slight disappointment I felt with the Lord of the Rings movies and larger disappointment with the first Narnia movie were due to how far they diverged from these images. I could probably still enjoy looking at her Narnia illustrations even though I now find the books mostly unreadable. What I especially liked, even as a child, was that they didn’t try to look too real; they were unequivocally fantasy illustrations.

  4. You’re welcome, Brian.

    Alyx: I think the thing which strikes us now looking at work such this is its difference from the whole world of what’s now called “fantasy art”. Artists of Baynes’ generation were flexible enough to illustrate anything they liked but some of them (Frank Frazetta, for example, born in 1928) found a niche illustrating fantasy. Now that fantasy and sf are genre industries you have a mass of artists who do nothing else but this kind of work and who often seem to feed off one another or off work from the recent past. As a result, the work of older artists can seem fresher simply because those artists were free at the time to do what they thought best, without worrying about precedent.

    And Pauline Baynes was clever enough to leave space for the viewer’s own imagination. Those map vignettes don’t have to be seen in greater detail; we don’t need to see the faces of Tolkien’s characters.

  5. Oh that’s sad, we were only just discussing her work on your post about mer-people. I loved her illustration of the tiny mer-people in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

  6. This is indeed the end of an era. Pauline Diana Baynes fed my imagination, accompanying much of my early reading. I used to plump for the editions which had her illustrations and indeed have the same poster shown on this page, along with several others, on my wall. My first reading of the LOTR (back in the early 70s), was the single volume version with those mesmerising covers – front and back – and I have even scanned them as wallpaper for my PC. I too had the Narnia box, Roger Lancelyn Green’s retellings of various legends, and many others, all benefiting from Baynes’ illustrations. Her passing is sad, but her work will live on.

  7. Hi Alwyn. Myths and Legends of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green was another childhood favourite of mine, read and re-read many times.

  8. Hi Patrick. No I don’t but given the success of the films I’d be surprised if they hadn’t been reprinted. Searching the HarperCollins site doesn’t reveal anything, however. Nothing at eBay either.

    Searching at reveals one of the first edition of prints (a special run of 50 copies) signed by the illustrator. Price is £902.26 which seems very excessive. Book site Abe is probably the place to keep looking.

  9. Pauline Baynes was one of my myths in the world of fantasy illustration, not just for the above mentioned poster (that of course hang in my room for much of the later 70’s) but much more for the “triptych”: the illustration of the deluxe version of LOTR

    It’s the best Tolkien cover ever, and the one Tolkien loved most (except of course his own for “The Hobbit”). The story of this cover and of the deluxe edition – the rarest and most expensive of all LOTR releases -may be found here.

    By the way John, great blog, I’m already hooked! Gotta buy one copy of “Haunter”.

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