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Picturing a World

Alan Lee's Green Dragon Inn

A few years ago, I borrowed a library copy of The Hobbit illustrated by Alan Lee. On the back of the jacket was an illustration of Bilbo joining the dwarves in front of the Green Dragon pub which was not included inside. Oh, well, I decided to spring for a second-hand copy just for the pictures and ordered on line what I thought was the right edition. When it arrived, lo and behold, its jacket was different. No Green Dragon. Phooey. To my amusement, when I searched for the illustration this summer, it turned up at a website with exactly my story of disappointment about the Green Dragon jacket illustration. That set me thinking about the difference between fan fiction and fan illustration.

I admit that, decades ago, I wrote a hobbit short story and a novel as first ventures into fiction writing and loved doing so. I even showed the results to a few close friends—though I'd never burden anyone with them again! Fan fiction is really not a bad exercise for beginning writers, as it comes with certain decisions about setting and characters already made. There's even a million-to-one chance that it will lead to a remarkable sequel, like Wide Sargasso Sea following Jane Eyre. But mostly, the results are garbage.
Illustrations are different. The topics are provided by the original work, yes, and visual clues may be specified; but all the aesthetic ideas and decisions belong to the artist. Surely, that's why there are so many equally good and wildly different sets of illustrations to certain classics.
Anyway, I downloaded this image and a higher-rez cover of the Tolkien calendar for 2013. Now I can visit Alan Lee's Green Dragon Inn whenever I want. Happy birthday, Bilbo and Frodo!

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