J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is a moving and beautiful story. Tragic as can be but still beautiful. Those of you who participated in Nerdist Book Club and read The Silmarillion with me know. The chapters were occasionally hard to slog through, and while we made it to the other side, reading from this hand-illuminated and bound version of the book by Benjamin Harff probably would have helped us feel more excited about turning the pages.
Harff created the hand-illuminated edition of The Silmarillion in 2011 when he was attending the Academy of Arts; this was his thesis project. He explains in an interview at Tolkien Library that he chose The Silmarillion instead of Lord of the Rings because the film adaptations of the latter had left too strong an impression on him. They would have influenced his work. Once he settled on The Silmarillion, he studied The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and and the author’s illustrations to tap into the right designs to use in the illumination.
He hand-painted and drew all the initials, illuminations, and calligraphy, using both pens and acrylic paint for the task. The finished pages were scanned and printed, and he worked with a professional bookbinder to add a goat leather cover to the tome. The whole process between research and actual work took approximately a year. Just the Silmarillion title page (pictured above) took 70-80 hours (approximately the length of one Hobbit movie). That’s some serious commitment.
He wasn’t able to reproduce his work in any capacity because he didn’t have rights but seeing this elegant take on the text makes me hope the Tolkien estate would agree to publishing a hand-illuminated edition of The Silmarillion. I’d even be willing to read it again.