Aug 3 2008 3:18am

Pauline Baynes

“Miss Baynes’ pictures must have reached Merton on Saturday; but owing to various things I did not see them till yesterday. I merely write to say that I am pleased with them beyond even the expectations aroused by the first examples. They are more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a commentary on the drawings.”
--J.R.R. Tolkien to Allen & Unwin, March 16, 1949 (Letter 120 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien)

She was born in 1922 in Hove, Sussex; she became the chosen and favorite illustrator of the notoriously fussy Tolkien. Her elegant faux-medieval drawings illustrate and enclose several of his shorter works, including Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. If it were possible to travel to Middle-earth by staring at a piece of art, the twelve-year-old me would have done so via her color map of Tolkien’s world that was published as a poster in the late 1960s. She also provided the loveliest covers of any of the popular editions of his major works, the British editions of the early 1970s, before it became necessary to sell all fantasy with sturm, drang, and tinfoil. Her work had the restraint and deep, serious whimsy of the best medieval illumination; it calls to mind R. A. Lafferty’s observation that “the opposite of ‘funny’ isn’t ‘serious’; the opposite of both ‘funny’ and ‘serious’ is ‘sordid.’”

In 1999, Teresa and I went for an early-morning walk outside Hawes, in the Yorkshire Dales; we found ourselves on the Pennine Path. More to the point, we realized we were in a wrap-around, 360-degree Pauline Baynes illustration. We managed to get a few photos that convey a sense of that.

As far as I can tell, there are no good reproductions of her work on the web; the scans and photos visible to search engines are all small, muddy, or both, a terrible thing for an artist whose work was all about clarity. I wish I could link to a scan of her illustrations for Tolkien’s poem “The Hoard.”

She died a few days ago, according to eminent Tolkien scholar David Bratman. She deserves notice. For me, at least, her images were Tolkien: the medieval re-imagined, not as dark barbarism or Gothic monstrosity, but a fully-fledged cosmos of knowing sophistication. Humor and humanity. There are dragons, and we can also laugh.

UPDATE: Via David Bratman, more (with excellent pictures!) from Brian Sibley.


Beth Meacham
1. bam
Baynes shaped my image of what high fantasy worlds should look like -- I think she must have done that for all of us of a certain age.
James Goetsch
2. Jedikalos
Thank you for telling us about her. She gave us a true window into Middle Earth.
Avram Grumer
3. avram
That lettering on the map -- that lettering style is deeply entangles in my head with memories of reading Tolkien, discovering D&D, meeting my friend Lisa Padol, discovering fanzines, and generally being twelve years old.
Chris Willrich
4. Chris Willrich
Her poster maps of Middle Earth and Narnia were on my wall as a kid, and I kept trying to imagine them as parts of the same continent. The little illustrations on the maps were like keyholes into those worlds. Glad she is being remembered.
Chris Willrich
5. Nina A
Thank you for this.
Chris Willrich
6. Theresa Wymer
Good heavens. Pauline Baynes' art will always be Narnia for me. She will be deeply missed.
La Tlönista
7. tlonista
Yes, I will always see Narnia as Pauline Baynes' flawless line-art. She's left behind so many wonderful things!
eric orchard
8. orchard
I'm with Bam and the others, Pauline Baynes shaped my visual understanding of fantasy, giving charm and whimsy a more prominent place than the very dark aspects that became popular. And a Lafferty quote! Wonderful post, thanks for sharing this.
Torie Atkinson
9. Torie
I am sorry for her passing. Like others, I will always associate LOTR with her gorgeous maps and illustrations. There is really no modern artist I can think of that I feel that way about. Can anyone think of someone in the last 30 years whose illustrations have had such a profound impact? Are these sorts of fruitful collaborations all but gone?
Koldo Barroso
10. Koldo_Barroso
I think Pauline was a unique illustrator who broke new ground. She had a very personal way to bring Romanic and Medieval into modern illustration. The work she did for C.S. Lewis' Narnia is a masterpiece to my eyes. I have an old edition of Tom Bomadil and I keep it as a treasure. Thank you for this post.
Chris Willrich
11. Winchell Chung
Another of the great ones have left us. Even as I type this, my framed tattered copy of her Middle Earth map is in a position of honor above my computer monitor. Where it has been for the last ten years or so.

I love her work. She will be missed.
Paula Marmor
12. PaulaKate
After the LOTR map, my favorite Baynes work is Grant Uden's A Dictionary of Chivalry (1968). 347 pages with Baynes illustrations on every one. A marvel.
Chris Willrich
13. Winchell Chung
Thank you Paula, I've just placed an order for the Dictionary of Chivalry with Alibris.
Chris Willrich
14. PixelFish
I'm another one who remembers her for the Narnia drawings. I'm pleased that even though they've gone to renumbering the series (at least in the States) they've kept Pauline's drawings.
Irene Gallo
15. Irene
I read this post while away for the weekend...I am glad to be back in my apartment where I just found my copy of Farmer Giles. (Stolen from the Sachem School library, I'm afraid to say.) I had forgotten how lovely those drawings are, especially those three color plates. Thanks for the reminder.
Jo Walton
16. bluejo
I'm very sad to hear that. I have loved her work since I was too young to understand that authors didn't always illustrate their own books. She was the first illustrator whose name I knew. I have had the poster of her "Bilbo's Last Song" on my wall for the last thirty years.

I don't expect she had any idea how much she meant to a whole generation of us.

(They don't do little gorgeous black and white line drawings in kids books like that so much any more. I wonder why not?)
Alison Scott
17. AlisonScott
I need to add my name to the chorus of people who cannot imagine Narnia and its inhabitants any other way.
David Bratman
18. calimac
Here's a nice memoir (with pictures!) of Baynes by Brian Sibley
Ken Walton
19. carandol
That's sad news. I was always fond of her work. There are some reasonable reproductions of some of her pictures here and I was quite surprised to find she was the artist who did the first paperback cover of Watership Down, a cover which captures the spirit of the book perfectly, but which I'd never associated with the very different styles of the Narnia and Tolkien illustrations.
Chris Willrich
20. Carol Maltby
I wish she could have gone on forever. I loved the delicacy and economy of her work, and its quiet strength.

I remember being a teen and being taken on a very quick trip across the border to Canada one day. I picked up the Puffin boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, and seeing the extra illustrations that weren't in the American editions was like finding myself in an alternate universe.

One of my most prized possessions is one of the original Pauline Baynes drawings for The Silver Chair, which I was able to pick up in the seventies. It makes it harder to look at the later reprints of her Narnia books, where the copies of copies of copies began to be so degraded.

Oddly enough, a couple of weeks ago I managed to find a book illustrated by her that I didn't have, and a hand-made plaque of one of the Tolkien illustrations mounted on wood, within days of each other at local thrift shops. I was trying to figure out what the synchronicity might mean.
21. rogerothornhill
I confess to the shameful ignorance of not even knowing her name before, although she apparently had cultivated a large corner of my imagination, leaf, root, and branch. Thank you for this tribute.
Chris Willrich
22. Brian Sibley
You may care to read my tribute to Pauline here:
Chris Willrich
23. Jeffrey A. Carver
We had her map of Middle Earth mounted for my teenage daughter a few years ago, and it hangs on her wall now. I would echo what Patrick said at the beginning--staring at her map is about as close to being transported to Middle Earth as I can get.

I'm sad at her passing, but deeply grateful for what she gave us.
Chris Willrich
24. Redshoes
Like others, Pauline's illustrations were Narnia for me. I was so pleased the day I finally completed the pristine set of her covers.
The thing that saddens me is that I hadn't realised she was still alive and now wish that some tribute could have been made to her work, and the gratitude from those of us whose childhood imaginations were formed by her delicate individuality of style could have been made known to her.
Chris Willrich
25. OR Melling
Thank you for letting me know this. A great lady and a gifted artist has passed beyond the circles of this world. I especially loved her work for CS Lewis and nursed secret dreams that she might, one day, illustrate for me. Alas, that dream has died with her.She deserved better recognition than she has received these past many years.
Chris Willrich
26. Ken Brown
She was a *good* illustrator of Tolkien, but one of the best of many. A view into the books. But she was *the* illustrator of Narnia. Her drawings *are* Narnia and the countries round. It seems to me that her pictures of the characters sneaked in and became part of the author's mental pictures of them - in the later books Lewis is writing about the people and landscape she drew (even if he was maybe a bit too curmudgeonly to realise it).

And I think she saw that Narnia is not (as the Shire is) Oxfordshire or Warwickshire but more like Northern Ireland - much of Narnia looks like a glorified County Down.

It would be as unthinkable to publish the Narnia books without her drawing as it would to publish them without Puddleglum or Reepicheep. They are not just a view on the story, they are part of it.
Winchell Chung
27. Nyrath
PaulaKate said: After the LOTR map, my favorite Baynes work is Grant Uden's A Dictionary of Chivalry (1968). 347 pages with Baynes illustrations on every one. A marvel.

My copy just arrived from, and it truly is a marvel. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. The illustrations are exquisite!

The copy I got was an old library book, but it was in very good shape, and it cost me a whole $6.
Chris Willrich
28. Nick Fagerlund
The day before she died, I was off in the woods opening Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham for the first time in probably a decade and a half, giggling wildly at the illustrations. You're right: she deserves notice, and I thank you for offering it.
Chris Willrich
29. jackie morris
Pauline Baynes was a woman of unique vision. Her imaging of Narnia made the books live. And her life time of other works also deserves respect. Long after some of the trendy illustrators who burn brightly and are the darlings of the current somewhat shallow publishing circles of the moment have ceased to be popular, her images will live on in the minds of people all around the world, people who love Narnia and Tolkein, who treasure their old copies of Watership Down, because her drawings have integrity, whit and beauty. As I believe she did.
Chris Willrich
30. Chrisb
Nil nisi bonum, sure, but I have to break with the consensus. Obviously, Tolkien was a much better illustrator of his own work than was Baynes, and qually obviously her timid pastiches were a good match for Lewis's Enid Blytonesque theology, but her watering down of medieval illumination and Persian miniatures does not deserve more than the affection given to the experiences of our unjudgemental youth. If you want illustrators to remember then Hugh Lofting and Katherine Tozer did much better work.
La Tlönista
31. tlonista
carandol@19, I owned a copy of Watership Down with that cover for years and years before I thought, "There's something familiar about that rabbit in the background" and realised Baynes illustrated it!
Andy Leighton
32. andyl
I just want to chime in and say that (BBC) Radio 4 had a segment on Pauline Baynes on their weekly obit show Last Word. I think it is still available on Listen Again if you are quick.
Cathy Mullican
33. nolly
A framed poster of her map of Narnia hung in my bedroom as a child. When I was not quite 9, we moved, and it disappeared around then -- lost, damaged irreparably, or accidentally left behind, I don't know, and neither of my parents remembers what happened to it, though they do remember it vanishing around then.

I had hoped the recent movies would lead to a re-issue, though it would probably be flimsy and glossy like most modern posters, rather than matte and on heavy paper like I recall. Still, it would be something, but I have been unable to find one at all.
Chris Willrich
34. Lisa Padol
At MythCon 39's banquet, rather than a moment of silence for her, we gave her a loud round of applause.

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