Today, if you asked me who was my favorite Tolkien illustrator, I'd probably say Alan Lee or Angus McBride. But if you asked me who had the greatest effect on how I visualize Tolkien's stories there'd be another answer: the Brothers Hildebrandt. I'd love to say my mental images of LotR come completely from my own imagination and Tolkien's words, but that would be a lie.
The Brothers Hildebrandt (Greg and Tim) painted three very successful Tolkien calendars back in the seventies ('76,'77, and '78'). To say they helped form my own mental images of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings would be an understatement. By their ubiquity alone they would have impacted me, but many of them are simply downright terrific. To this day some of the Hildebrandts' pictures loom over any rereading I do of Tolkien.
Their paintings are a little more cartoonish than either Lee or McBrides, the former's being more impressionistic, the latter's like the classic illustrators like Pyle and Wyeth. I never particularly liked the thick folds of the Hildebrandts' characters' clothing. Too many of their larger illustrations are static, and look staged and lifeless. Or the pig orcs. Man, do I hate the pig orcs (but the pictures featuring them are sensational, nonetheless).
What the Hildebrandts' art does have is vivacity and, whether bright or dark, bold colors. While Lee's illustrations are washed out and seemingly eroded with age, the Hildebrandts' are sharp and nearly every line clearly delineated. They would also look great on the side of a van or giant black light poster.
Without further ado, here're the pictures from the 1976 Ballantine Tolkien Calendar. '77 and '78 will follow in the next couple of days.
|This is the weakest of the three calendars. Still, they made some interesting choices of subjects and all their positive hallmarks are present.|
|Ok, this is little doofy. But then, Tom's a little doofy.|
|See the folds of Strider's tunic? Too thick, I tell ya'! But I love his scary hand shadows on the ceiling and the massive size difference between him and the hobbits.|
|The thoughtful gentleman memoirist amongst the clutter.|
|I don't love this one. It looks like a weak Maxfield Parrish and Galadriel lacks any of the sort of grave majesty Tolkien ascribes to her.|
|Don't love this. Treebeard looks way too much like Gilbert Shelton's Phineas Freak.|
|Nothing to say, really. I like the glassy, oddly carved surface of Orthanc and the official looking pillars and chains surrounding it.|
|Gollum's a little too cartoony, but Minas Morgul (ne' Ithil) is perfect. Its architecture looks distinctly non-European which is a nice change of pace for fantasy illustrations.|
|Almost perfect. Eowyn's armor is a little too High Middle Ages instead of Volkswanderung Gothic-cowboy. I love the Witch-King's iron crown and the fell beast. Plus, the cloud filled skies and the shadow covering Eowyn's lower body. Good stuff.|