—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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
Who’s the guy on the left?
German cover 1967
The 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…
It 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.