Monday, 4 May 2009

The Haven of Moriondë

I've just unearthed a book of Tolkien-related art that I had as a kid. It's great - about three dozen pictures by a variety of artists, of work ranging from The Hobbit to The Book of Lost Tales and The Return of the Shadow. Obviously John Howe is well represented. But I have to say that these days I'm more and more seeing the value of Roger Garland.

This piece is easily my favourite, though I couldn't find a representation on the web that would do it justice. In the flesh it is much longer, with a vista of stars stretching far above the scenery. Called The Haven of Moriondë, it depicts the moment when Sauron first arrived at Númenor, in The Lost Road:

Guards were set at the haven of Moriondë in the east of the land, where the rocks are dark, watching at the king's command without ceasing for the ships' return. It was night, but there was a bright Moon. They descried ships far off, and they seemed to be sailing west at a speed greater than the storm, though there was little wind. Suddenly the sea became unquiet; it rose until it became like a mountain, and it rolled in upon the land. The ships were lifted up, and cast far inland, and lay in the fields. Upon that ship which was cast highest and stood dry upon a hill there was a man, or one in man's shape, but greater than any even of the race of Númenor in stature.

He stood upon the rock and said: "This is done as a sign of power. For I am Sauron the mighty, servant of the Strong" (wherein he spoke darkly). "I have come. Be glad, men of Númenor, for I will take thy king to be my king, and the world shall be given into his hand."

Some people say Tolkien was a poor writer. Those people are idiots.

What I like most about the picture is how understated it is. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but fantasy art - at least D&D-inspired fantasy art - seems to have lost all comprehension of the power of understatement, and this is to its great loss.

I'm now harbouring an urge to crack out my MERP rulebook and start thinking about the Second Age of Middle Earth...


  1. I was just looking at my copy of the ICE-produced artbook "Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-Earth" last night. Beautiful stuff.

  2. I think Tolkien was a good writer but post Jackson I could see what made those critics who have no love of fantasy cringe.

    I consider good dialogue the crucial challenge for a film writer to address. The first thing I did when I came home after watching the Jackson movie was to impatiently look for evidence of how he butchered Tolkien's dialogue. He didn't. He was quite faithful. The dialogue in lotr requires a sympathetic reader to appreciate it which isn't something an artist can expect.

  3. blizack: I'll have to see if I can track that down. I love the ICE art for MERP.

    Kent: His dialogue isn't naturalistic but then neither was it in most literature of that era. Anyway, even if people don't talk in reality like they talk in the Lord of the Rings, I don't see that as a failing - it contributes to the semi-mythic atmosphere.

    My criticism of Tolkien would be his poor characterisation of the secondary characters (especially his women).

  4. Tolkien's writing is like a Christmas cake: rich, stodgy, mildly intoxicating, and filled with unexpected treasure. That said, it's not to every taste.

    My personal favourite piece of Tolkien art has to be Ted Naismith's Downfall of Numenor. It has some of the overheated, feverish grandeur of John Martin's painting of Pandemonium.

    John Garland kind of passed me by. I liked his Silmarillion cover... *ducks*

  5. That's not what I meant but you could hardly know from a brief comment. Naturalistic or contemporary modern speech will kill any interest in a fantasy work for me.

    Dialogue is not accent such as Baltimore street kid lingo in the Wire or Barliman Butterbur dialect which is excellent. It is character interaction. If you accept that dialogue is the best means to convey character then I say that the source of the criticisms of his characters being thin or schoolboyish is his dialogue. This is not saying the characters are unrealistic, which is irrelevant in a fantasy, but that they are not fully fleshed or not fully human and so not interesting to many readers.

    I read the books too early and too many times to cast an objective critical eye on them. I love the books too much but can see what the critics are getting at.

    When it comes to pastoral prose he can reach Wordsworthian heights but he could never have written a successful play.

    [There's nothing antagonistic in what Im saying it's just a comment and I still mostly agree with your " an idiot" point.]