Thoughts about illustrations

What can illustrations bring to the story? I´ll take a look on books I love, and try to find answers.

I am working on these posts continously, as it gives me the pleasure of educating myself in these themes. I have to divide these themes in several posts, to simplify more.

Fantasy: "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien

The illustrations under are drawn by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)

These illustrations may not be professional in the usual sense, but they fit the narrative. They do not stand in the way of the images one forms oneself when reading.

Poems and songs included in the story may also be an illustration, which adds feeling and atmosphere to the story.

Citation: This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses have lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.

Citation: “I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet. Now, Bilbo, my boy, fetch the lamp, and let´s have a little light on this!”

On the table in the light of a big lamp with a red shade he spread a piece of parchment rather like a map.

Citation: Thorin came last – and he was not caught unawares. He came expecting mischief, and didn´t need to se his friends´legs sticking out of sacks to tell him that things were not at all well. He stood outside in the shadows some way off, and said: “What´s all this trouble? Who has been knocking my people about?”

“It´s trolls!” said Bilbo from behind a tree.

The Road goes ever on

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.


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Other artists in the 1800

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1882) was a great illustrator of his own works, he was born into an artistic  family. The image is from his book “Just So stories”.

Kipling lived in the generation before Tolkien. Both Kipling’s and Tolkien’s stories were later illustrated by professional artists, who drew the images in a naturalistic style.


Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898) made illustrations from the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.


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Fantasy: "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll

The two illustrations of Alice and the caterpillar are from “Alice in Wonderland” written by Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898).

The first illustration is drawn by Carroll himself, the other by Sir John Tenniel, (1820 -1914). He was an English illustrator and satirical artist, famous for his  illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872).

Tenniel would sketch in pencil, then use white or black ink. He would later transfer the drawing to a wooden block with carbon paper. From those wooden blocks, he then produced copper plates for printing.

Lewis Carroll had a clear picture of what Alice should look like. He was no bad draftsman, and he himself made many illustrations for Alice. If you compare the illustrations of Carroll and Tenniel, Tenniel is the professional. He clarified the scene. The water pipe that the caterpillar smokes is described beautifully, and the caterpillar likewise. The background of the picture helps to give the illustration atmosphere and rhythm. The small mushrooms helps explain the large mushroom on which the caterpillar sits, and the bluebells show the aspect ratio of Alice and it. The strokes of the pen alternate between following the shapes and cross-hatching the shadows, giving illusions of sunlight.

The picture illustrates the text, and also provides more information, which has to do with physical emotions and presence. Alice stretches her body to look over the edge. The caterpillar looks down at her, and she meets his gaze. There is contact. Alice feels and touch the mushroom and the hookah are held by the caterpillar, blowing out smoke.


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

from Through the Looking-glass, and what Alice found there (1871)

Illustration by Tenniel

Carroll wrote poems to be included in his stories. Under, I´m reading “Jabberwocky” in my Norwegian accent. When I was young, I learned many of Carrol’s poems by heart, to say them to myself in quiet moments.

Science fiction: "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" by Jules Verne

The three illustrations from 20 000 Leagues under the Sea is made by Edouard Riou. The man with the axe is captain Nemo.

The book was written by Jules Verne and published in 1869-1870, it was illustrated by Edouard Riou and Alphonse de Neuville. Many of Verne´s books were originally printed as serials, in newspapers and magazines.

A wonderful adventure, with nature and science as background, about captain Nemo in his submarine called Nautilus. The magnificent illustrations are an important part of the experience, and add both lyrical value, beauty, and dramatic value, suspense and action. Riou has created order and clarity in the narrative with scenes that attach the fantastic events to a drawn reality. It all culminates with the dramatic scenes with the giant octopuses.



Dead, the Dutch Icarus who plundered France
And left her fields the richer for our eyes.
Where writhes the cypress under burning skies,
Or where proud cornfields broke at his advance,
Now burns a beauty fiercer than the dance
Of primal blood that stamps at throat and thighs.
Pirate of sunlight! and the laden prize
Of coloured earth and fruit in summer trance
Where is your fever now? and your desire?
Withered beneath a sunflower’s mockery,
A suicide you sleep with all forgotten.
And yet your voice has more than words for me
And shall cry on when I am dead and rotten
From quenchless canvases of twisted fire.


Merwyn Peake

Merwyn Peake was both a visual artist and writer, not to mention a poet. He had a knack for bringing his characters to life and creating atmosphere.