Tolkien's Landscapes 4: 'Mirkwood' ~ pictures by Tolkien, poem by jan-u-wine.
The illustrations that inspired jan-u-wine's poem for this entry have interesting histories.
The first picture, a black and white drawing, was made specifically by Tolkien to illustrate The Hobbit, published in 1936. It is clearly titled "Mirkwood" on the bottom border and there is a large black spider. Tolkien wanted the drawing to appear as the book's front endpaper, but the publishers placed it in chapter 8, "Flies and Spiders", the one that takes place in Mirkwood. The forest, once Greenwood the Great, is shown as ranks and ranks of trees, both thick and slender, with extensive surface roots, the trees so high no leafy branches are visible. A jet black distance visible through the boles suggests either gloom or deep night. The style, clean, decorative and elegant, gives the impression of an eerie, silent, enchanted forest. It is not quite the brooding, dense, stifling Mirkwood of the book, but perhaps an aura of dark enchanted silence mattered more to Tolkien than one of a forest bearing down travelers, hemming them in, close and suffocating.
There was an earlier picture, though, clearly the model for the black and white made for The Hobbit. In 1928, Tolkien painted a watercolour depicting the Taur-na-Fúin, the dark, evilly enchanted forest that sank beneath the waves at the end of the First Age. This picture was made to illustrate the Silmarillion tale of Túrin Turambar when the elf Beleg finds another elf, Flinding (later called Gwindor), recently escaped from Morgoth's fortress-dungeon Thangorodrim. If you look closely at the left foreground you will see a small figure with long black hair, red pointed shoes and a sword hanging at his waist climbing over a sprawling tree root. That's Beleg. To the right at the base of the largest tree is the prostrate body of another elf, Flinding, his red cap and lantern beside him on the ground. It is a scene set in the Taur-na-fúin, yet the name at the bottom of the picture is "Fangorn Forest". How is that?
As it turns out, the title was put there by Tolkien for inclusion in the The J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar 1974. Tolkien obviously loved this picture, working from it to make his illustration of Mirkwood for The Hobbit, later letting it stand in for Fangorn Forest for the calendar. (Perhaps Tolkien didn't think people would notice the two figures with their shoes, long hair, lantern and sword, who could not be Merry and Pippin.)
In any event, both "Mirkwood" and "Taur-na-Fúin" aka "Fangorn Forest" are fine works, drawing in viewers and kindling imaginations just as good illustrations ought.
"Mirkwood" from the first edition of The Hobbit, 1936:
Great and unbowed, the trees which dwell here:
slender-pale beech, spread-finger'd oak,
Black as midnight's pocket, the beasts:
harts, wary and shadow-stricken,
sable clad squirrels.
A waiting chill lives, always,
beneath the sombre canopy,
leaf-cloak denying the Sun her merry passage,
staying, with twined limbs, even the gentle rain
from a night'd floor.
Greenwood the Great it was called once,
this darkened forest,
trees singing with the happy burden of a warm Sun,
glades washed with colour
and the warm scent of life.
Beneath these trees, within this place,
dark or light, good or
the Elves dwell, listening, ever,
to the song-speech of their wards,
for the turning of this Age.
The leaves drift slow in the ending.....
Once again, soft light blesses them
upon their final journey.
The River Running murmurs to itself,
threading its way among grey stones,
banks green with new grasses.
A curious wind courses
like a blooded hunter, running upon the ground,
twisting in tangled branches, unveiling the moonlight
after the Sun has journeyed West,
urging the Enchanted Stream along its laughing way to
that it is where the Elves have gone, their long day in the Greenwood
at last done,
the songs of the forest
diminished, silenced, at the last,
by those of a shore unknown.
And the trees stand,
still and wait,
their songs rising
to sunlight or moonlight,
the music of them borne upon the back
of the wind.
Until World's end, they endure.
Until World's end, their Song rises.
~ "Beleg Finds Flinding in Taur-na-fúin", 1928, later titled "Fangorn Forest" by Tolkien for the 1974 Tolkien Calendar.
~ "Moonlight on a Wood": picture by Tolkien, poem by jan-u-wine.