Tolkien inspiration - The Story of the Glittering PlainThe Story of the Glittering Plain:
Illustrated

A book that inspired Tolkien

The Professor’s Bookshelf Book #3

By William Morris
With introduction by Cecilia Dart-Thornton.
Illustrated by Walter Crane, first published 1894.


This edition includes a bonus: Morris’s essay collection ‘The Art and Craft of Printing’.

On May 8th,1891, Kelmscott Press published its first book, The Story of the Glittering Plain.
This fantasy novel by the famous nineteenth century English textile designer, artist and writer William Morris describes the journey of Hallblithe, a young man on an epic quest to rescue his love.

The Story of the Glittering Plain is one of several William Morris works known to be a book that inspired Tolkien in his creation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien was two years old when the second edition was published, in1894, complete with decorated borders and capitals by Morris and richly detailed illustrations by Walter Crane. This is a close copy of that book.

William Morris was an enormous influence on Tolkien’s literary interests. Tolkien discovered Morris’s translations in his teens, and his interest in Morris deepened at Exeter College, Oxford, where Morris had also been an undergraduate.

Tolkien and Morris

Fantasy and medieval literature specialist Douglas A. Anderson writes: ‘William Morris was an enormous influence on Tolkien in terms of the general shape of his literary interests. Tolkien discovered Morris’s translations in his teens, and his interest in Morris deepened at Exeter College, Oxford, where Morris had also been an undergraduate. Tolkien’s earliest stories of his Middle Earth legendarium, published posthumously as The Book of Lost Tales, show a decided influence of Morris in their archaism and style.’

Douglas A. Anderson

‘Morris was perhaps the first modern fantasy writer to unite an imaginary world with the element of the supernatural, and thus the precursor of much of present-day fantasy literature,’ declared L. Sprague de Camp in Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers.

The Illustrator

Like Morris, Walter Crane (1845–1915), an English artist and book illustrator, was associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Crane is considered to be the most prolific and influential children’s book creator of his generation.

William MorrisWilliam Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and libertarian Marxist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and English Arts and Crafts Movement.He founded a design firm in partnership with the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti which profoundly influenced the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century.

As an author, illustrator and medievalist, he helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, and was a direct influence on postwar authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien. He was also a major contributor to reviving traditional textile arts and methods of production, and one of the founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, now a statutory element in the preservation of historic buildings in the UK.

Walter CraneWalter Crane (1845–1915) was an English artist and book illustrator. He is considered to be the most prolific and influential children’s book creator of his generation and, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, one of the strongest contributors to the child’s nursery motif that the genre of English children’s illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the latter 19th century.

His work featured some of the more colourful and detailed beginnings of the child-in-the-garden motifs that would characterize many nursery rhymes and children’s stories for decades to come. He was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and produced an array of paintings, illustrations, children’s books, ceramic tiles and other decorative arts.

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A book that inspired Tolkien.

When Tolkien was twenty-two he revealed, in a letter to his sweetheart Edith, “Amongst other work I am trying to turn one of the short stories [of the Finnish Kalevala] … into a short story somewhat on the lines of Morris’s romances with chunks of poetry in between.”

In 1960 he was still acknowledging his debt of inspiration to Morris, noting, “The Lord of the Rings was actually begun, as a separate thing, about 1937, and had reached the inn at Bree, before the shadow of the second war …

The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. They owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains.”

‘Although the illustration itself [in The Story of the Glittering Plain] does not provide explicit commentary on the text, it is essential to the reading of it. [The illustrations are] rich in illustrative detail, incorporating not only naturalistic ornamental elements but also actual letters into all areas of the page – the outer border, the inner border, and the actual text window. Word and image – embodying thought and body, respectively, on the page – are combined in the book’s design.’

Yale University 2006 ‘The Illustrated Word at the Fin de Siecle’

ISBN: 9781925110067 (paperback)

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