Talking to Alan (the Duchy of Tradgardland) Gruber about this curious illustration in Wings and the Child or Building of Magic Cities by E. Nesbit (1913), Alan and I wondered if this was an early illustration of what would become that Tolkein classic figure the Ent, tree characters beloved of fantasy gamers?
We wondered if Tolkein had read her work or been influenced by Nesbit’s fantasies or Barraud’s drawing?
Alan Gruber has long been a big fan of Tolkein, whereas I have to quietly admit to never having read any of Lord of the Rings, failed to read even past the first chapters of The Hobbit or properly to have watched the recent films. I much prefer(red) the Narnia books, but shhh! don’t tell anyone this shameful fact.
My lazy Wikipedia research however suggests that J.R.R. Tolkein (1892-1973) did enjoy magic and fantasy stories like those of the now largely forgotten Victorian writer George Macdonald and even those published when he was a young-ish man such as the contemporary new short stories in E. Nesbit’s magical fantasy The Magic World (1912) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_World
Within the short stories of The Magic World, there is one called “Accidental Magic” where schoolboy runaway Quentin falls asleep on the altarstone at Stonehenge and wakes in Atlanti. This has been seen by some critics such as Robert Giddings and Elisabeth Holland, J. R. R. Tolkien: The Shores of Middle Earth, 1981 – as exerting an influence on the young Tolkein.
Hmm. These fantastic Edwardian ‘dreamers’ – it sounds a little like a fantastical Puck of Pook’s Hill by Kipling 1906 (illustrated by Arthur Rackham).
Project Gutenberg has a handy free download online copy of The Magic City and the “Accidental Magic” story.
“Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home. Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early.
Tolkien could read by the age of four and could write fluently soon afterwards. His mother allowed him to read many books. He disliked Treasure Island and The Pied Piper and thought Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was “amusing but disturbing”.
He liked stories about “Red Indians” (Native Americans) and the fantasy works by George Macdonald. In addition, the “Fairy Books” of Andrew Lang [1890s-1913] were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings.”
Source: Wikipedia entry on Tolkein.
The Lang Fairy Books were illustrated by H.J. Ford.
Influence is a hard thing to prove. There is a longer discussion about Nesbit’s stories and her Fabian circle and their possible influence on Tolkein as a young man and as a parent here – dragons are mentioned but not Ents:
Who was GB, illustrator of this tree?
Setting aside all the creepy trees in Arthur Rackham illustrations, I found on the book’s frontispiece that GB the illustrator or artist of this characterful tree in Nesbit’s Wings and The Child 1913 was George Barraud, active c. 1911-13.
A quick check on trusty Wikipedia suggested several people, so required some wider research – there are a number of Victorian and Edwardian painters with the Barraud surname such as Phillip George Barraud (1859-1929), FB Francis Barraud who painted the HMV Nipper dog or the Suffolk based Barraud family of artists, not to be confused with GB’s namesake the prewar 1920s-30s film actor George Barraud, 1889 – 1970]Simple objects like a clothes peg sawn in three for decorating the Magic City
Biography from Moore Gwyn Fine Art:
The Tramp Magazine front cover design by George Barraud June 1910/11
Douglas Goldring’s short-lived magazine, The Tramp, an open air magazine was published in monthly editions between 1910 and 1911. Dedicated to outdoor life, it celebrated its theme through modern fiction and non-fiction, publishing work by Wyndham Lewis, Arnold Bennett, Ford Madox Ford and Arthur Ransome (amongst many others).
George Barraud illustrated a number of books in the period immediately before the outbreak of the First World War, amongst them an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Harrap, 1913), An Alphabet in French and English (Max Goschen, 1912) and E.Nesbit’s The Wings and a Child; or the Building of Magic Cities (Hodder & Stoughton, 1913).
I’m often surprised how many illustrated magazines and illustrated news papers that there were in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain and America. This market must have been a great source of work for writers like H.G. Wells, E. Nesbit and illustrators alike. This is a world of increasing literacy thanks to Sunday Schools and the 1870 Education Act, before the wireless, before television and with cinema only in its silent ‘shorts’ infancy.
Abe Books are good for researching work by illustrators. Here is another fine magical city by Barraud in his illustrations to Sir Gawain and The Green Knight retold by John Harrington Cox (Harrell, 1913) such as sold here in Abe Books – Berwyn Books.
Another Tolkein overlap – Gawain and the Green Knight was first translated into Modern English in the late 1890s, then decades later we have John Harrington Cox’s retelling in 1913, illustrated by George Barraud. In 1925, Tolkein and E. V. Gordon published a scholarly edition of the Middle English text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
There is little biographical information on the Internet for GB George Barraud. Any internet research keeps running up against George Barraud the theatre and film actor from the 1890s to 1930s or the other Barraud painters. There is no CWGC WW1 casualty record for George Barraud. Again, worth a future blog post.
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 25 January 2021
Blog Post Script
Tolkein Estate Website – https://www.tolkienestate.com/en/paths/links/modern-texts.html