In November December this year, HarperCollins will publish the first in a series of four box-sets to celebrate the life, and achievements of Christopher Tolkien through his decades long work to bring his fathers Middle-earth texts to us, beginning in 1977 with The Silmarillion. Unfinished Tales followed in 1980, and in 1983 the first of his monumental series of twelve volumes, The History of Middle-earth was published. Over the next 13 years he delivered a volume a year.

The first in this new series will include The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the two volume Book of Lost Tales. With future box-sets to follow through next year, concluding on what would have been Christopher Tolkien's 100th birthday, 21 November, 2024.

People have been guessing (and asking in various places) what John Howe images will be used for the new book covers. I thought it would be handy for fans to see what images have been used in the past and what we know from the first image of the box provided by HarperCollins. So this is not to be taken as speculation of what the new boxes will contain, but rather what images have been used for the same titles previously.

I am only including UK publications in this list but following the link for each image will bring up more details over on John's website. These images are the property of John Howe. His artwork can be seen on his website Portfolio. It is a treasure trove of fantastic artwork.


Box 1: We can see that the box will use 'The Siege of Gondolin' on one panel but for now we can only see that one panel. Thanks to remy for posting the first images from the new box, we now know that the outer box contains 'The Siege of Gondolin', the rear is the rightmost portion of 'Ulmo, Lord of the Waters', and the right panel is taken up by 'The Doors of Night'. What is really pleasing is that John Howe's amazing images are not cluttered by text on the back covers of the books so that we see more of the original images than in previous editions.

Book 1 The Silmarillion - 'The Siege of Gondolin'. We have seen this image previously, used for The Map of Tolkien's Beleriand and for the collected The Maps of Tolkien's Middle-earth, but not as a jacket for the Silmarillion. John offers some commentary on various images, not all, and his thoughts on this image are really enlightening.

Knowing that the back cover of the maps always need to support a lot of text, the creatures approaching Gondolin are black on black. Balrogs and dragons for the most part. Quite a lot of work can go into the portions of a cover which remain invisible or barely so once printed. They are always the most fun to do. More New Zealand landscape here... Gondolin really could be hidden somewhere in New Zealand's South Island...

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Book 2 Unfinsihed Tales - 'Ulmo, Lord of the Waters'. This image has been used for a number of versions of Unfinished Tales in the past. It was also used as the cover for the Tolkien Diary 1995.

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Book 3 The Book of Lost Tales: Part One - 'Morgoth's Forces before Gondolin'. Used previously for paperback versions of the same book, first for the editions beagn in 1992The 1992 edition was published by HarperCollins/Grafton and contained more of the image than the later 2002 edition which has black rear covers with text as opposed to the 1992 which wrapped the image around the full covers and spine and text.[1] and the 2002 editions. John notes that:

Any book cover offers only the bottom half of the right-hand side guaranteed to be free of text. With the title, spine and back cover copy, there is precious little room left sometimes to actually paint. It does have the merit of focusing one attention on essentials, though... Yes, those are the Swiss Alps.(I took out the ski lifts and the wanderweg signposts...)

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Book 4 The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two - 'The Door of Night'. As with the previous volume, and the remaining volumes in the series, the images were used for the paperbacks of 1992 and 2002 except Index which was not published until 2002. The image was also used for a really cool trading card. This painting is in my top five images of John's. As a boy when we were collecting the books (my father and I), I must have spent as much time on the cover as the enclosed text.

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Box 2: We can now see that the left panel uses 'Fingolfin's Challenge' and the three books, The Lays of Beleriand, The Shaping of Middle-earth, and The Lost Road use 'Fingolfin's Challenge', 'The Siege of Angband', and 'The White Tower of Elwing'.

Book 5 The Lays of Beleriand uses 'Fingolfin's Challenge'.

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Book 6 The shaping of Middle-earth - 'The Siege of Angband'. Very strong words from John on this one, I wonder, will HarperCollins ask him to do it again, or will this be the image used? John would take the former in a heartbeat.

This is perhaps the least favorite of my Tolkien pictures (barring a few absolutely awful ones which certainly won't make it on the site...) Angband is all wrong, the causeway and towers are ridiculous, the Elvish warriors in the foreground have awful costume and silly heraldry on dopey banners and the background is boring, though no worse than the swath of unkempt lawn in the front... well, okay, the flames are sort of all right. Even worse, it feels like high fantasy, but certainly not connected to Middle-Earth. I wonder what I thought I was doing... but I'd happily do it again tomorrow if given the opportunity. One day, perhaps...

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Book 7 The Lost Road: and Other Writings - 'The White Tower of Elwing'.

Guilty as charged, I plundered the composition from a painting by the 19th century French artist Jean Lecomte du Nouy. The Victorian painters and their French colleagues, (unceremoniously labelled "pompiers", pilloried, ignored or dismissed as the reactionary purveyors of the discutable morals of the colonial powers) may not measure up to modern taste, but boy, could they paint! Their historical and narrative (and often monumental) paintings are a constant source to me of envy and mild dismay. They are truly wonderful artists nonetheless.

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Box 3: We now know that the left panel will use 'Gandalf Returns to Hobbiton'

Book 8 The Return of the Shadow (Part one of the History of the Lord of the Rings - 'Gandalf Returns to Hobbiton'. This image is also used as the cover for the BBC/Random House Audio cassette tape of the BBC's radio series.

For ages I had wanted to do a painting of Gandalf returning to Bag End after one of his lengthy absences. All of the elements fell very naturally in to place, especially the lane leading back to the distance in the left, symbolic of the troubles and cares pursuing Gandalf, heralding the evil stirring far beyond the horizon of the Shire. Of course, I wasn't thinking that when I was doing the picture, but it sure sounds intelligent in the commentary, doesn't it?

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Book 9 The Treason of Isengard (Part two of the History of the Lord of the Rings - 'Edoras'. A vignette was also used for The Map of Tolkien's Middle-earth.

Landscapes are always a pleasure to paint, especially the landscapes of Middle-earth. The book covers have a small troup of riders in the foreground - placed there at the request of the editor, who felt the whole thing needed some focus. They have since ridden on, out of frame and to parts erased...

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Book 10 The War of the Ring (Part three of the History of the Lord of the Rings - 'The Mûmak of Harad'.

For ages and ages I kept a photograph of some sunlit rocks near a murky pond, hoping that some day an illustration would come from it... The archers of Faramir's band are taken from The Medieval Soldier, and the Mumak from memories of those wonderful mammoths that Frank Frazetta engraved so deeply in my mind that I'll never be rid of them... I do regret now having put the hobbits in their tree to the upper left, it seems much too contrived, but they usually seem to get cropped or covered by a text block anyway.

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Book 11 Sauron Defeated (Part four of the History of the Lord of the Rings - 'The Drowning of Anadûné'.

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Box 4: We can now see that the left panel will use 'The Killing of the Trees'

Book 12 Morgoth's Ring - 'The Killing of the Trees'.

My first sketch showed Morgoth absolutley slamming his spear into one of the Trees, but it was judged a bit... energetic. I fell back on Morgoth contemplating Ungoliantë avidly sucking up the sap of the wounded Trees.

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Book 13 The War of the Jewel - 'Nienor and Glaurung'.

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Book 14 The Peoples of Middle-earth - 'The Ship of the Dark'. 'Promotional proof front' and 'Promotional proof rear '. Does anyone here have any of these or adverts? I would love to see them.

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Book 15 Index - 'The Grey Havens'. This image was included in the 2001 Tolkien Calendar for December.

This is one of those paintings that feels like a preliminary run - the time it takes to paint it gives you a feeling for what it might be next time around. In an ideal world, the Pre-Raphaelites would have imagined romantically decaying Victorian ruins in Milford Sound... New Zealand landscape is incredibly striking. The vignette at the bottom symbolises the "bending" of the earth, but of course the Elven ships can sail straight to Beleriand. And there are those swans again...

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ALL IMAGES AND QUOTES REPRODUCED HERE ARE THE PROPERTY OF JOHN HOWE


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1 The 1992 edition was published by HarperCollins/Grafton and contained more of the image than the later 2002 edition which has black rear covers with text as opposed to the 1992 which wrapped the image around the full covers and spine and text.