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martedì 6 giugno 2017

Alan Lee: Interview about 'Beren and Lúthien'. The story was so important to Tolkien.


The following is the original version of the interview Alan Lee kindly agreed to concede to Oronzo Cilli on May 31, the day before 'Beren and Lúthien' was published in Italy. Interview has been published in the “Libero” newspaper on June 1.

The story was so important to Tolkien
Alan Lee: Interview about 'Beren and Lúthien'

by Oronzo Cilli

What kind of experience was it to get back to illustrate a work by J.R.R. Tolkien once again?
It was great to be able to get back into book illustration after six years of working on the hobbit films. Though that was a fascinating and enjoyable experience it was enjoyable going back to Tolkien’s own words – and to my own studio!

Among all writings by Tolkien, 'Beren and Lúthien' is no doubt the text most closely linked to the author's biography because of the circumstances of its inspiration. What will Alan Lee's take communicate to readers about that?
What we know about Tolkien’s life, his experiences of the 1st world war and his relationships add poignancy to our appreciation of the story, but I don’t think it would be right to try to reflect that in the illustrations. Those associations are there if we read more about the background to its writing but it’s important to work with the text he left, rather than try to fit the author into the story.

10 years ago, in 2007, The Children of Hurin was published with your illustrations, and now we have 'Beren and Lúthien'. What was the difference, if there was any, between these two works as far as the process of illustrating them is concerned?
The main difference between the two books is that in 'Beren and Lúthien' we have a number of versions, in differing styles and from different periods – it was a tale that so engaged him that he kept returning to it. Christopher Tolkien decided to present the story as a compendium of all the versions, so we read it in a multi layered way that makes the story of its creation as interesting as the story itself.

What can you tell us about the illustration on the cover of the gift edition, in the amazing and elegant edition by Harper Collins?
I wanted to include Huan, the huge and faithful hound that help 'Beren and Lúthien' at various points in the story.

Which artwork in particular among those included in 'Beren and Lúthien' is important for you? Which one could be taken as a symbol of the whole work in your opinion?
I like the picture of Luthien dancing and casting a spell over the balrogs and orcs in Morgoth’s hall. It shows her at her most powerful, and is symbolic of the very active role she plays in the story. She is very far from being a passive princess waiting for her hero to complete his quest; she is there every step of the way.

Did Christopher Tolkien, to whom we are always very thankful for his excellent work, utter any comment you would like to share with us?
Because the story was such an important one for Tolkien, and for his family, we wanted to make sure that Christopher was completely happy with the approach to the illustrations and the choices of scenes to depict. Roughs were sent to him and his feedback was always very welcome. There is no-one with a more complete understanding and insight into Tolkien’s creation – he was, in many cases, actually there when the stories were being told for the first time.

Now for a question about your artistic profile. How do your works relate, if they do, to the classic works of great illustrators of the past in field of fantastic art such as Arthur Rackham and John Bauer?
I was very influenced at one time by those artists, and particularly by the illustrator Edmund Dulac. They were such masters, and studying their techniques has been very useful, but it is important to not spend your career in a form of homage to your role model.

Is there any work by J.R.R. Tolkien that you have not illustrated yet but would like to?
I’d like to do more with the 1st age stories – they are so grand and mysterious.

Besides illustrating Tolkien's works, you are also the author of some splendid artworks illustrating the Welsh tales of The Mabinogion, therefore I would like to ask you: what is your idea about the question of a Celtic inspiration for at least some motifs found in the Professor's works?
I think there was quite a lot of inspiration the myths and folklore of Wales. The story of the impossible task set by a young woman’s father to deter a suitor is also told in story of Culhwch and Olwen. In this case the father is a giant – Ysbaddaden – and the quest is to snatch a comb and pair of scissors from between the ears of a huge boar. Huan, is reminiscent of the faithful and courageous Gelert, the hound of Prince Llywelyn in a story from snowdonia.

The trepidation for the publication of 'Beren and Lúthien' is in part also due to your magnificent works of art which, as always, will contribute significantly to making it a unique piece. Your art always manages to recreate the feeling of the books, even before the success of the films. What does it mean to you to have the responsibility to illustrate Professor Tolkien's works while being aware that millions of readers will be able to actually look at Middle-earth through your art?
It is a privilege to have been able to get so close to JRR Tolkien’s work, over such a long period of time – and it feels as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. I hope that people feel that their reading of the books has been enhanced by the illustrations – I know that many would prefer an unadorned text, and some would prefer a more vivid and dynamic approach, but my aim has always been to try to make middle earth feel a little more tangible without placing myself between the reader and the text.

Would you please dedicate a word of greetings from you to the myriads of Italian fans who love Tolkien and your art?
My very best regards to all the Italian Tolkien fans –  Grazie per essere parte di questa grande storia!

[Thanks to Giovanni Costabile]