Tolkien’s mind is a fascinating one. The father and influencer of so much fantasy over the many decades, his work and ideas have influenced countless creators and fans alike, altering the course and perception of what fantasy fiction can be. The success of his Middle Earth works is a tremendous achievement, full of developed languages, fictional histories and family trees, packed with remixing and new spins on age old conceits and a love of myth. When one thinks of worldbuilding, it’s Tolkien that comes to mind. Few have ever loved doing it so much, few did it to such extremes and for so long and even fewer still found such enormous success with it. And his world, Middle Earth, is simply one of the richest, most wildly imaginative settings to be conceived.
And so when someone tackles that world and the task of bringing it to life, it’s certainly no easy task. Capturing the weight, the true gravitas and majesty of Tolkien’s worlds, encapsulating the spirit, atmosphere and mood requires the greatest of skill and most importantly, the grasp of the material which lets one get to its appeal whilst adding in a unique stamp to enhance it. And this is where Donato Giancola excels, it’s what is the most evident through every image across this lovely collection of great images. From rough sketches, studies and portraits to fully realized painting work that feels photo-realistic, Giancola is able to, using various tools, render a version of Middle Earth that simultaneously feels familiar and new, like you’re rediscovering it all over again. It’s a bit like coming home, only to find that it now has new things you might not have imagined. It’s surprising but in the way that elicits delight, like a child finding a gift they weren’t aware was there.
Giancola is also a master of light and his use of it in his artwork is spellbinding. The way he uses it and can render it in interesting ways, while developing the distinct textures of everything within the scope of an image really gives the work a lot of its impact. His colorwork follows the same principle, with the artist knowing precisely the look he needs to get the most out of an image, from a dried out paint-like flame in one scene to a roaring, fiery stream of gleaming fire, his variations have purpose, much like the ever-changing scenes themselves. A work like ‘Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The Fire’ for instance is far different from ‘Smaug the Golden’, which is again different from ‘The Great Dragon Smaug’. At a first look, from the way it’s colored and the way the colors and paint are used to convey the textures and set a distinct tone and mood, you know this is different.
Like any great illustrator, Giancola manages to pack loads of details and meaning into a single image, making for work that a reader can gaze at to unravel a whole story, context and meaning out of it. It’s just not just ‘here’s a dragon’, it’s the vibe the dragon gives off, it’s the eyes and how they’re presented, it’s posture, it’s the colors utilized to imply context, it’s the surroundings and all the little artistic decisions made to suggest something clearly to its audience. And all done so well that it’s almost instinctively understood, even if one may not always be able to articulate it. One glance lets you know all you need to about things and that’s the goal.
Middle Earth: Journeys in Myths and Legend is a great dive into not only Tolkien’s iconic realms but a fascinating artist’s great oeuvre and his passion for world-building. An absolute must grab for Tolkien fans and art collectors everywhere. If you’re looking to find the flames of inspiration, this book is packed with them, detailing worlds and characters of magisterial might.