Ten of the Weirdest Book Covers for The Hobbit

Barbara Remington

Barbara-Remington-Middle-Earth-art

Barbara Remington was unable to get a copy of ‘The Hobbit’ or ‘The Lord of the Rings’ prior to creating the concept art for the first authorised US paperbacks.

—but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale (I hope you are one) could think such a picture would please the author. – J.R.R. Tolkien to Rayner Unwin 1962

 

Horace Engels 1957 German Edition

Horace-Engels-The-Hobbit

I continue to receive letters from poor Horus Engels about a German translation. He does not seem to necessarily propose himself as a transaltor. He has sent me some illustrations (of the Trolls and Gollum) which despite certain merits, such as one would expect of a German, are I fear too ‘Disnified’ for my taste: Bilbo with a dribbling nose, and Gandalf as a figure of vulgar fun rather than the Odinic wanderer that I think of…J.R.R. Tolkien to Stanley Unwin 1946

 

Children’s Book Club Edition 1942

The-Hobbit-CBC

“Surely the paper wasted on that hideous dust-cover could have been better used.” J.R.R Tolkien.

Also known as the “Foyle’s” edition to collector’s and highly sought after, it features a dandy Bilbo on the cover.

 

Longman’s Pleasure in Reading Edition 1968

I have never even seen one of these for sale, the other edition by Longmans featuring Tolkien’s “mountain” cover in monotone is also very collectible. I am torn between praising the bold use of colours in this naive style of art and wondering why Smaug is vomiting.

Dutch Edition 1960

The-Hobbit-1960--Dutch-cover

 

This is the sort of Disneyfied cover that would have horrified Tolkien, but it’s been so popular a Jubilee edition was issued in 2010, 60 years after the first Dutch translation of The Hobbit.

Portuguese Cover 1962

Portuguese Cover 1962

I love this cover. Of course a blissful-looking Bilbo smoking a pipe and surrounded by mushrooms might not exactly relate to the text. Also, what’s with the pointy hat?

Tove Jansson’s Swedish Cover 1962

Tove-Jansson-The-Hobbit

Although I adore Tove Jansson I have to question the somewhat shifty look, the axe and the night cap.

The Forgotten Birthday: Tales of English Writers

The-Forgotten-Birthday-The-Hobbit

This is from a Russian anthology of children’s stories. As you can see, it features a cute and hospitable Smaug bearing gifts of tea and flowers.

(Thanks to Rain for providing the title for me.)

Bulgarian Cover 1979

The-Hobbit-Bulgarian

Who’s the guy on the left?

 

German cover 1967

The-Hobbit-German-Butterfly-SmaugThe famous butterfly-winged, cross-eyed Smaug on the German edition paperback. He doesn’t look like he could scare my cat.

 

And a dishonourable mention…

Hobbit-Ballantine-1989It is one of my dearest ambitions to find whoever illustrated this cover and poke them in the eye. Make that both eyes. Truly the most horrible cover in the history of Middle Earth. And what’s worse, they did the covers for The Lord of the Rings as well.

 

Lord-of-the-Rings-Ballantine

About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

16 Responses

  1. Rain

    The title is “Забытый день рожденья. Сказки английских писателей” – The Forgotten Birthday. Tales of English Writers.

    I didn’t even know it existed! Though it would be funny if Smaug indeed greeted Bilbo and the Dwarves that way…

    Reply
  2. Daniel

    Probably a bit too late, but if you are still wondering about the pointy hat in the Portuguese cover, in that one the title was translated as a word that means “gnome”. It’s no wonder that he looks like a garden gnome there.

    Reply
  3. Dave

    Though my favorite Hobbit cover is the edited B. Remington (the strange tree really enforced the fantastic setting for me), I always wondered why a cover couldn’t have been set to Rankin/Bass’ illustrations (courtesy of Topcraft).

    While I truly loathe your dishonorable mention cover (Ballantine 1989), I find the covers consisting of live-action movie adaptation screenshots to be nearly as bad- Is it an attempt to force the reader to associate the book with the movie (*shudder*)? Or an attempt to give the movie credence by association? I think actual photographs on book covers ‘hijack’ the imagination of the reader, and I don’t like reading them as much as a result.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      You know I’d have loved to see a Pauline Baynes version of Remington’s cover. I do have the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit film book, but I didn’t realise there was no paperback versions. It’s a little surprising considering how many different covers it has had in the US.

      Publishers make a huge thing out of film tie-ins. I suppose it’s to attract movie fans to the books but I hate them as well. They look dreadful, and cheap.

      Reply
  4. Stu

    You are right that the Longman’s “Pleasure in Reading” Hobbit doesn’t come up for sale that often. I have the 1970 reprint (almost identical to the 1968, except the “s” is dropped from “Longmans” on the spine). I think I have only seen three of the 1968 copies for sale and one or two of the 1970 (including the copy I bought) in the last decade or so. I expect they do come up a bit more often than that, but anyone who wants a picture of a dragon vomiting a pizza does need to be patient!

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      That’s a nice treasure to have Stu! I’ve got the other Longman’s edition which is quite a bit more common, with the monotone cover. Come to think of it, it’s a bit odd those two covers are from the same publisher.

      Reply
      • Stu

        Yes, I think that the GA&U and Houghton Mifflin offerings were a little more author-directed than many of the other publishers, some of whom produced a few fairly whacky designs over the years in their quest to not be confused with the GA&U edition. Like you say, It is odd that the rather sensible-looking monochrome Longman’s edition is so completely different than the the ludicrous PIR version. I can only put it down to it being the 1960s when everyone was taking LSD 🙂

  5. Edmond Dantes

    I’m a little shocked that the Ballantine 1990s covers came up on this list. They’re what I grew up with, and while at the time I held them up as an example of everything wrong with American fantasy, these days I feel like they convey a certain sense of wonder, and if nothing else the choice of presenting an image front-and-center with each book being defined mostly by color was a good choice. To this very day, I think of Fellowship, Towers and Return as “the Green book, the Blue book, and the Red Book” respectively. It actually annoyed me when the Extended Editions of the movies came out and they reversed the colors of the last two.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      Sorry I just hate them. Especially The Hobbit cover. It’s fitting you think of the books in terms of colour, in Middle Earth all four books are known as the Red Book.

      Reply
  6. Kami

    The Russian cover for “The Forgotten Birthday” is not featuring Smaug at all, it is a reference to the Comodo Dragon in a totally different story included in the book. I have it on hand, and it actually includes some pretty neat introduction to some of Tolkien’s languages and honors all of the stories in the anthology better than most editions. Please remove it from your list as it has nothing to do with the message you are sending across.

    Reply

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