Art and Literature News

The Artist Who Brought Tolkien’s Books to Life

Pauline Baynes is the English artist responsible for creating so many of the iconic illustrations for the books of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I recently visited an exhibition of her drawings at Farnham Museum in Surrey to find out more about Pauline and her work.

Pauline was born in 1922 in Hove but was raised in India where her father was commissioner in Agra. She returned to England in her teens and lived with her parents in Farnham from 1937.

Pauline began her training as an illustrator at the Farnham School of Art and The Slade, but her training was cut short by the outbreak of World War Two. During the war she volunteered for the Army and Navy map-making department and it was there she acquired the skills for drawing the maps of Narnia for Lewis and Middle-earth for Tolkien.

After the war, Pauline decided to pursue a career as an illustrator and, as an unknown artist, sent drawings ‘on spec’ to publishers. And so it was that some of these illustrations caught Tolkien’s eye whilst he was visiting his publisher in 1948. Tolkien demanded that the creator of these drawings be set to work illustrating his books and the strong friendship between Pauline and Tolkien ensued.

Tolkien declared that Pauline Baynes had ‘reduced my text to a commentary on her drawings‘.

When she showed him her artwork for a poster featuring Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, the author nodded approvingly and murmured quietly: “There they are, there they are.”

It wasn’t always easy for Pauline to interpret Tolkien’s imaginings into illustrations. In fact, when asked to clarify a detail he would often tell her to ‘Do whatever you think is best‘.

LOTR cover Pauline Baynes

LOTR Cover by Pauline Baynes

Angela Baynes LOTR

Painting of LOTR by Angela Baynes

One part of the story I find delightful is that Tolkien found Pauline’s interpretation of his work exactly right despite the fact that Pauline herself, never read The Lord of the Rings. When Tolkien asked Pauline to produce a cover for the trilogy she was at a loss, knowing nothing of the characters or what they looked like. But Pauline’s sister Angela was a fan of Tolkien and painted a picture of Middle-earth for Pauline. The similarities between Angela’s painting and Pauline’s cover for The Lord of the Rings are striking.

Pauline created the colour illustrated map of Middle-earth. This was a combination of the smaller maps Tolkien had drawn for his books on Middle-earth. The problem was that Tolkien’s maps were not all drawn to the same scale; nor did they fit together. Pauline enlisted the help of the cartography department at the Borden Military Camp to produce the maps to the same scale. She then asked Tolkien how she should fill in the gaps to fit the maps together, to which he replied,  ‘Do whatever you think is best‘. And so the map of Middle-earth was born!

Tolkien introduced Pauline to his friend C.S.Lewis but, whilst she created some iconic pictures of Narnia for his books, they only met twice and never became friends.

Pauline and her husband Fritz, were good friends with Tolkien until his death. They were two of only twelve attendees at Tolkien’s funeral.

Pauline lived in Farnham until her death in 2008.

An Artist’s Imagination, a free exhibition celebrating Pauline Baynes, runs until Saturday January 12 at The Museum of Farnham in Surrey and is well worth a visit. You can read a little more about Pauline Baynes and the exhibition in Surrey Life .


By Pauline Baynes


By Pauline Baynes












Cover Illustration of The Hobbit by Pauline Baynes

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