Artist Pauline Baynes worked as an illustrator for both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In this feature, Tolkien scholar John Garth muses on how her seemingly effortless ability to capture a scene, and how her art awoke in him a love of literature.
John Garth on Pauline Baynes
It was an illustrator that taught me the joy of literature. True, Pauline Baynes had the marvellous accompaniment of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but as a seven-year-old I drank in the pictures. For me, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia is always her world too, and I wince when I see latter-day jackets with tepid stand-in illustrations.
The impact of Baynes’s tangled trees and underworld caverns, inhabited by medieval figures and mythological or heraldic beasts, was immeasurable. With its nakedly religious denouement, The Last Battle does not quite work for me now – but the Puffin cover’s firelit fray still brings back the thrill of first seeing it. Lewis’s cruel Calormenes are a dated racial stereotype; yet Baynes, raised partly in India, passionate about Persian art, instils them with grace, culture, beauty and physical prowess.
The cover of my first The Lord of the Rings was from a 1964 Baynes: a soft Shire landscape misting into green-grey, with tumbled and tormented Mordor on the back – both framed by trees with furtive creatures among the roots. I’m sorry Baynes never got to work on a full-scale illustrated edition: she does not attempt J.R.R. Tolkien’s realism yet she matches him for sheer wonder.
Born in 1922, she had started at the Slade when war took her away to work for the Army and Admiralty; but she still managed to make some halting first steps as an illustrator. In 1948 Tolkien was shown sample drawings she had been invited to submit for his children’s story Farmer Giles of Ham. He loved her characterful, semi-comical, medievalesque handling.
Smith of Wooten Major by J.R.R. Tolkien. Cover illustration by the late Pauline Baynes.