The Hobbit, or, The Greatest Movie Tie-In Edition of a Book Ever Published

One of my bookish interests is an amateur appreciation I have for good book design, and it’s something that may come up now and again here as part of The Booked Escape Plan.

I first became interested in noting quality book design when the fantasy novel, The Way of Kings, was published in 2010, so it is fitting that the following appreciation is about a special edition of The Hobbit, one of the progenitors for the genre.

Until recently I had never expected that a paperback movie tie-in edition of a novel would be the pinnacle of great book design, but something came in to my store as a buy from a customer and I snagged it. We initially thought it might be expensive and so we paid the selling customer a pretty penny for it because of this. Sadly, the glue at the back of the book and splitting in the latter half of the novel devalued it, and so I bought it with the intentions of fixing the book. Because it is gorgeous. It might be one of the coolest things I have ever seen, in terms of book design. The really special quality the book I am going to show you is in the page layouts: the way image is arranged among the full text of the novel.

Are you ready for this? The book I talk about is a Ballantine 1978 edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit with art from the 70’s cartoon film (both in-movie as well as concept art) repurposed as illustrations for the text.

The following images are taken of a book that now seems to be pretty scarce. A handful of printings were done in the space of a few years, but they are no longer widely available. The hardcovers are costly online, and even the particular one I will be showing you (the 1st edition, 4th printing) when in-tact have few copies available.

The obligatory map (every epic / high fantasy set in what we call a secondary world has a map of the world or the portion of it in which the events occur)
Bilbo from the beginning of the story at the left, and Bilbo from the end of the story at the right.
Here is the copywrite page (containing a map drawn by a character in the novel)
The badass Table of Contents is reminiscent of those found fantasy role-playing video game booklets that would come in jewel cases and cardboard sleeves

Many of the illustration format has principle characters from the accompanying text’s concurrent scene, many times lined up across the top continuously cross both pages. while other pages have the characters off to the sides of the text or below it; in these instances the characters depicted tend to be isolated. See the next photographs below.

Note each character in the illustration has a small end-caption giving their name.
Despite being separated by two pages of text, is an obvious sense that the two characters in the given illustrations are interacting; the space between them in fact reflects the temporal space between Gandalf and Smaug in the story.
I am especially fond of the design for Gollum, so this illustration is my favorite.
Some of the illustrations give the impression of profiling the character being illustrated, which is unusual in novel illustration. The images’ arrangement among the text is what makes it work so well.
Here is an example of image placement beside the text. Typical format of this book’s typography is three columns of text (see left of image) but an entire column has been eliminated for the illustration.
Interesting placements of small illustrations give this book so much character.
There are only a few double-page spreads like this in the books sand they are vibrant, clear reproductions of illustrations directly from the movie.
I believe this is the only example of a double-page tiling layout in the book. Again, vibrant, clear reproductions directly from the movie.
Very nice.
Not many black-and-white illustrations in the book, so this is neat.
The back endpaper. If you look long enough, you notice where the back cover is separating from the spine. This is what I will need to repair.
The back cover.

I hope getting a look at this brings out the inner child of anyone who grew up reading The Hobbit and watching the first adaptation, or anyone who grew up on fantast in general. I also hope that this puts on full display the potential that attention to book design can have. This is am immensely creative project and I imagine the book designer behind it had a whole lot of fun doing it. It certainly looks like fun.

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