Posts Tagged ‘Tove Jansson’

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. These year, it’s even The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary, and to celebrate, I have of course read through The Hobbit again.

So many have said so much about this book, so I’d rather show off my newest addition to my Tolkien bookshelf. This is the Swedish 1962 edition of The Hobbit, Bilbo, En Hobbits Äventyr (Bilbo, A Hobbit’s Adventure), and it has quite an interesting history.

In the 50s and 60s, Astrid Lindgren, maybe most famous for her children’s books about Pippi Longstocking, worked as an editor at the department for Children’s literature at Rabén & Sjögren, who published Tolkien’s works in Sweden. Lindgren was very interested in Tolkien’s work, and while she later denied Tolkien as an inspiration for it, she published the quite Lord of the Rings reminiscing Mio my Son in 1954, and later the world beloved classic children’s fantasy novels The Brothers Lionheart and Ronia, the Robber’s daughter.

In the early 60s Lindgren was not content* with the current Swedish translation of The Hobbit, Hompen (translation by Tore Zetterholm, 1947), and wanted to better it. So she opted for a new translation and got hold of Britt G. Hallqvist for the job. For illustrations, she contacted her friend Tove Jansson, now World famous for her Moomin Valley universe. Jansson had already had success with her Moomintrolls, and had previously made illustrations for a Swedish edition of Lewis Carrol’s classic poem Snarkjakten (The Hunting of the Snark, 1959), so a successful publication seemed likely.

Hallqvist translated, Jansson drew, Lindgren published it, and it flopped! Tolkien fans didn’t enjoy Jansson’s drawings much, and the illustrations were not used** again before 1994. By then, the 1962 version was cherished by Tove Jansson fans and Tolkien collectors over the World, and it had become quite hard to find. The 1994 edition was sold out in a jiffy. The illustrations were finally “blessed” by the Tolkien Estate, when they were used for the 2016 Tolkien Calendar.

Jansson’s illustrations were also used in the 2016 Tolkien calendar, which I’m, afraid to say, have not acquired (yet).

I was lucky and found a decent copy of the 1962 edition in a Japanese(!) bookstore on the Net. Now I LOVE this book. Its illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

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The destruction of Lake Town and the death of Smaug are my personal favourites

The destruction of Lake Town and the death of Smaug is my personal favourite

It makes a great additon to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

This book makes a great additon to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

It would be a pity to let this book stay alone without decent Janssonic company, so I searched a few weeks, was lucky again and found a nice copy of the mentioned Snarkjakten by Lewis Carrol, and an almost mint copy of the absolutely fantastic (in all meanings of that word) Swedish 1966 edition of Alice i underlandet (Alice in Wonderland). If you enjoy Alice, you will love Janssons’ illustrations, even outshining her work on The Hobbit.

Janssons illustrations of <i>Alice</i> were later used in a lot of versions, among them, Finnish, American, British, and Norwegian editions.

Janssons illustrations of Alice were later used in a lot of versions, among them, Finnish, American, British, and Norwegian editions.

For an intensely interesting read about Jansson’s artistic work on these classics: Read Olga Holownia’s essay at barnboken.net.

That’s it. Merry Christmas and happy Youletide everybody!

*) Neither was Tolkien himself. He specially disliked the translation of Elvish names into Swedish, like Esgaroth -> Snigelby (ie. Snail Town!!!). Also interesting: Svensson, Louise, Lost in Translation? – A Comparative Study of Three Swedish Translations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, Lund University 2016

**) Actually, there were other versions with Jansson’s illustrations; the Finnish Hobbit Lohikäärme-vouri (The Dragon mountain) from 1973, and the updated Finnish translation in 2003. The illustrations were also used in this year’s Finnish 80th Anniversary edition of The Hobbit.