Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Maurice Sendak's Illustrations

Maurice Sendak's works of children's literature are among the best-loved of the 20th century, and his illustrations are almost instantly recognizable.  From Where the Wild Things Are to In the Night Kitchen, his artwork manages to capture the fun of being a child, while still touching on some of the bigger, darker issues that children have to face.  As Tony DeTerlizzi writes, "[Sendak] had the ability to delight the young as he balanced the light and dark in titles from Pierre to his pièce de résistance, Where the Wild Things Are."

But there is one work that Sendak isn't known for--a work that he nearly illustrated and then, due to a series of unfortunate events, didn't. 

That work is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

As DeTerlizzi explains in an article for the LA Times online, Sendak was approached by publishers in the late 1960s to provide illustrations for a 30th anniversary edition of The Hobbit.  He even drew sketches for this project, one of which you can see here.  Due to a miscommunication, however, Tolkien thought that Sendak hadn't read the book, and then when Sendak had a mild heart attack, the meeting between Tolkien and Sendak was cancelled and never rescheduled.

It's a fascinating story, one that exists in the world of "what if?" and "might have been."  The perfect place, perhaps, for the intersection of these two authors.