A Single Leaf: Tolkien’s Visual Art and Fantasy

A Single Leaf: Tolkien’s Visual Art and Fantasy

MacLeod, Jeffrey & Smol, Anna

Mythlore 27:1/2, Fall/Winter (2008)  


In his essay on “fairy-stories,” Tolkien formulated ideas about fantasy and myth‐making that are founded on the primacy of language and narrative art: “The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval” (“On Fairy‐Stories” [“OFS”] 41). Responding to the philologically based myth theories of Andrew Lang and Max Müller, Tolkien—also a philologist—defines mythopoesis in linguistic terms. And yet, Tolkien was an inveterate drawer, painter, and designer whose definition of “fairy‐story” includes visual terms, not only in his essay but also in his poem “Mythopoeia” and, most obviously, in his allegorical fiction about a painter, “Leaf by Niggle.”

Our exploration of Tolkien’s ideas about myth‐making focuses on visual aspects in his definition of fantasy. As an artist, Tolkien straddled the amateur and professional fields; much of his work was intended for personal and family use, though some of it, like his Hobbit illustrations, found their way into print during his lifetime. The integration of personal and professional interests marked all of Tolkien’s endeavours: his fiction, his art, and his scholarship. For example, in exploring some ideas about the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon,” he expressed his views by writing an original verse drama, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.” In his fiction, like The Lord of the Rings, he reworked passages from literature that he studied as a professional medievalist.

Click here to read this article from Mythlore

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine