The Neverending Story of John Howe and JRR Tolkien

The Neverending Story of John Howe and JRR Tolkien


The Canadian illustrator John Howe, based in the canton of Neuchâtel, made a sensational entry on the world scene by drawing the universe of Lord of the Rings. Twenty years later, he is working on the series, around which reigns the greatest secrecy.

Amazon bought the global TV rights to The Lord of the Rings in 2017 and announced the release of the series for 2021. But the coronavirus has been there and production, contacted by Keystone-ATS, is unwilling to release any information at this point.

For their part, social networks distill information in a trickle on the actors and members of the team who should participate in the adventure. One of them is John Howe, who created the film’s visual universe with Alen Lee. Its reputation, already globalized thanks to the Anglo-Saxon story steeped in Nordic mythology, is further increased tenfold. The 62-year-old man knows how to remain modest.

However, the illustrator seems to have easily endorsed his status as a world star. “Ha, ha, it’s really all relative. That said, it allows you to no longer have to give endless explanations on what I do. The profession of illustrator is not a profession recognized as such. the chamber of commerce, I am registered as a graphic designer. “

The profession of illustrator allows you to navigate between books, films, design, graphics, posters, architectural and urban planning projects through the design of cultural programs and their artistic direction. The cinema, with its multiple requirements, allows it to cultivate transversal reflection and agility of mind.

In recent months, the illustrator has taken over the reins: this fall, HarperCollins will publish “Unfinished Tales” by JRR Tolkien, with illustrations by John Howe, Alan Lee and Ted Nasmith.

Another advantage of his star status is that he follows his work all over the world. John Howe, for example, exhibited last August in Shanghai and books he designed are coming out in Chinese edition.

Fascinated from the age of 14 by JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, John Howe and his universe seduce an audience over several generations. “It’s an indication that heroic fantasy, when properly written, answers questions every generation is asking.”

Novels that help open your eyes

“And since heroic fantasy is neither scientific nor religious, the answers are much less demagoguery. I would call them novels that help open the eyes.”

The strength of heroic fantasy also undoubtedly comes from the fact that it feeds on different mythologies. For the Canadian, “there is a considerable volume of literature, which comes to us from the days when the world was a place on the edge of the marvelous, still full of possibilities, of things unexplored, of dangers. All these texts and these tales offer us a window into another era. I find them fascinating. “

And John Howe to enumerate great texts which inspire him like Beowulf, a poem of Anglo-Saxon literature, composed between 700 and 1000 or the Song of the Nibelungen, an epic in Middle-High German, created in the 13th century

Without forgetting the Volsunga Saga, a Nordic saga, from which Tolkien was inspired and the Mabinogion, written in Middle Welsh, which refers to the Celtic mythology of Antiquity. The scholar continues with the Kalevala, an epic written in the 19th century drawing on Finnish mythology and the Icelandic sagas: “five volumes, which weigh a ton”.

The place of the human being

All these stories have only one goal, that of defining the place that humans occupy in the world. “I believe that if we transposed these mythologies to the current scientific era, it would allow us to better situate ourselves, in an ecology that is both moral and environmental.”

“By always pushing the limits further, we ended up meeting each other, but we are no closer to having found the answers to our eternal questions.”

A series on Arte

This summer, John Howe is reading a lot as he is preparing a series for Arte on fantasy literature. He has a special affection for authors, like Robin Hobb, Ursula K. Le Guin, Naomi Novik and Anne McCaffrey, who have renewed the fantastic in their own way.

For him, drawing is close to writing. “Why do we draw? I believe the line between writing and drawing is indicated to us by the resulting product, and not by the process that created it.” So in a current book, he navigates between text and image.

Tolkien inspired him as soon as he had one of his books in his hands. “He’s one of those authors whose visual evocation is extremely strong: what he describes triggers visions.” By dint of drawing the world created by the writer and approaching the English publisher who published his novels, John Howe ended up being edited in turn, then spotted years later by the New Zealand director Peter Jackson for create the visual universe of his films.

Le Canadien teaches one morning per week in an art school in Neuchâtel. “For those who have not given up drawing, since all children draw, it shows that they have not figured out what this means of expression could bring them. And for those who give up, it means that after a while, the drawing no longer gave them the necessary answers. But that remains a mystery. “

John Howe delivers an anecdote. When he meets one of his director friends, he asks him: “What’s up?” He replies: 24 more hours of art in the world. “And it is this reason that pushes us all to accept the difficulties, the uncertainties, the complications and the questions”.


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