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I picked this up at a thrift shop over the weekend. I found it very neat to see what a reader may have imagined the characters and world of LOTR to look like. I read the book in a Post-Jackson world, so a lot of my mental theater is filled with the likes of Elijah Wood.

I know a lot of supplemental art exists out there, so I was hoping someone familiar with the motifs might help to break this illustration down for me. It's a little surrealist/psychedelic, though. Illustrated by Jane Furst.

Top Right: Saruman? Sauron?
Left of thumb: Surrealist Goldberry maybe?
Ball on hill: Eye of Sauron?
Pinky: Shelob? Watcher in the water?

Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings, Bo Hansson Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings, Bo Hansson - Back Cover

Obviously, sources with evidence are preferred.

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    Sauron as a Buddha figure? Is he spitting out fell-beasts like watermelon seeds? Why is there a giant billiard ball about to roll down on Minas Tirith? Why does Shelob have a face?
    – DavidW
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 16:25
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    Guessing that ring might be important.
    – SDH
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 16:41
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    I'm wondering what Mantegna's dead Christ is doing in the lower-left corner ...
    – lfurini
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 16:44
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    @lfurini that is. . . uncanny. That makes me think it must be Frodo after the Shelob bite, our hero presumed dead only to be resurrected? Allusion by the illustrator?
    – Turbo
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 16:47
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    Could the top-right figure be a personification of Caradhras? Gimli certainly spoke of the mountain as if it had a mind of its own, blaming it for the harsh weather that blocked the Fellowship. Maybe it's meant to be blowing a blizzard out of its mouth.
    – Withad
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 16:50

1 Answer 1

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It is possible to make some sense of this, enough for an answer to be attempted, after magnifying and pulling together some ideas from the comments.

At least everyone will agree that's the One Ring in the palm of the hand.

On the left that's almost certainly Shelob, zooming shows a hairy spider-body behind the oddly human face, with a suggestion of longer legs on the left. So from context that's Sam or more likely an orc running towards an unconscious Frodo. The unearthly flowers may be inspired by nearby Morgul Vale.

Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers. Luminous these were too, beautiful and yet horrible of shape, like the demented forms in an uneasy dream; and they gave forth a faint sickening charnel-smell; an odour of rottenness filled the air.

A very passable Minas Tirith at upper-left under the text, with a canonical seven levels and tower of Ecthelion.

Yes, that really is Sauron at top-right behind behind the mountains of Mordor, commanding thirteen riderless fell beasts. Canonically, this isn't too bad, he must have had some breeding stock; after Legolas kills one with an arrow a replacement steed is found for the Nazgul, they aren't left mooching around for the rest of the novel. (We can discount other suggestions of Saruman and the spirit of Caradhras as they have no connections to fell beats.) It's certainly not how I picture Sauron, but he is only vaguely described.

Given that an ethereal Sauron is already in frame and that it doesn't have a pupil I'm going to discount the idea that the orb on the hill is the eye of Sauron. It could well be a Palantir, presumably Denethor's as it is behind Minas Tirith. The Stone of Erech is another possibility but this was a relatively minor story element.

The knights on the right are rather generic but the Rohirrim are the best fit. There is a fallen figure between the two horses so we are probably looking at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in front of Minas Tirith.

But the white fury of the Northmen burned the hotter, and more skilled was their knighthood with long spears and bitter. Fewer were they but they clove through the Southrons like a fire-bolt in a forest. Right through the press drove Théoden Thengel's son, and his spear was shivered as he threw down their chieftain.

We could plausibly be looking at Théoden, although that's clearly a lance rather than a spear.

The two figures below the horsemen are the biggest mystery. Is one helping the other up? Are they having a symbolic tug-of-war with a very short rope? There is also a third figure obscured by a finger, also braced, perhaps pulling on another person. And what is that weird mound behind the little finger? Some beetle-creature? The Witch-King in very elaborate armour, with Merry stabbing him from behind?

I do have a suggestion, I think it's Old Man Willow re-imagined as a beetle-like creature. If you look closely there are four figures dressed identically to Frodo at bottom-left, Frodo and Sam are rescuing Merry and Pippin.

The artwork, like the album itself, is 'inspired' by LotR. Some elements are directly lifted whereas are loosely interpreted. @Turbo found the name of the artist, Jane Furst. Her wiki entry says:

Her work draws upon an interest in artists from the distant past, for example Northern Renaissance, from whom she borrows images, and also the study of natural form.

Which explains why a couple parts of the image allude to renaissance paintings, as pointed out in the comments. The unconscious, half-naked Frodo is taken from Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ, matching Frodo's role as a heroic martyr. The battling knights come from different parts of Uccello's Battle of San Romano.

It would be interesting to hear the artist's intent, but I think they are trying to convey something of the sweep of the story. We have scenes malign supernatural powers, struggle, fellowship and sacrifice. It's not a typical Tolkien calendar scene such as 'Gandalf vs the Balrog'.

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    No mention of Orodruin, at the top center?
    – Buzz
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 21:57
  • @Buzz ARe you looking at the white hollow mountain? I thought Caradhras, with Cirith Ungol to the left of Sauron, and the barrow downs far left background beside Minas Tirith. Possibly Pelagir or Grey Havens below Sauron.
    – bob1
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 2:35
  • @bob1 That crater definitely looks to me like it's intended to be volcanic.
    – Buzz
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 3:32
  • @Buzz - but oddly enough, seemingly outside of Mordor - not that much on the cover really makes sense!
    – bob1
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 3:50
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    @TristanC. - In isolation that would be a good guess. But if you zoom to look between the two fingers there are another two hobbit figures, one has grabbed the other around the waist from behind. This is why I thought of Sam and Frodo rescuing Merry and Pippin from an Old Man Willow type character in a fellowship motif. But I guess it could be four characters struggling over the ring, the artwork doesn't adhere strictly to canon. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 13:03

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