Alan Lee, The Lord Of The Rings Sketchbook
(Houghton/Mifflin Company, 2005)

As someone who has never had a drop of artistic talent in my body, I've been amazed (and not a little jealous) of those who've got it. Art historian/art critic I'm not; I like what I like, and luckily in most cases what appeals to me is considered worthy in most circles. So I've either got a good eye, or I'm a follower, not a leader. Who knows?

There is one thing I do know, and that's that I've loved Alan Lee's drawings ever since I received a copy of the 1988 Houghton Mifflin Lord of the Rings boxed set as a Christmas present years back. When I heard that Peter Jackson had tapped him to help with the film versions, I was excited; here was proof that Jackson knew what he was doing. And it paid off handsomely, with these movies standing out as benchmarks of genre filmmaking, and of filmmaking in general

This is a great addition to any LOTR fan's collection, and an important item for students of film, especially those interested in art direction and conceptualization. Part sketchbook, part journal, part behind-the-scenes tell-all, it manages to entertain and provide insight into the filmmaking process. The sketches take center stage, as it should be with any book having "sketchbook" in the title. But the information presented along with the sketches also tells readers a lot about how sets, characters and costuming are created, from the first discussions to the final result. Lee has provided sketches that started out as rough ideas, then became firm decisions as casting and location shoots firmed up particulars. It's exciting to see his sketches of Galadriel finish into a drawing of Cate Blanchett in his section on Lothlorien, and I loved the inside info on how he used himself for a model for sketching Gandalf in the Shire.

Lee's attention to detail in his work is just astounding. Even his most rudimentary sketches seem well thought out and plotted. Of course, this book highlights his work on LOTR, but after reading and absorbing the information given in this book, I get the idea that there must be a consistency here. But enough about the illustrations. Alan Lee is a brilliant artist and concept man . . . but can his writing hold together a book of sketches? Yes. By providing insights into how he creates his characters, creatures and places, he's created more than a simple book of sketches, he's provided a guide to the creative process. The introduction by Ian McKellen tells us that fans aren't the only ones who appreciate Lee's work; by breathing life into Tolkien's works, he made the work of the actors that much easier by helping to create a vibrant, detailed world for them to work in.

This book is breathtaking from the moment you pick it up, right through to the very last page. At first glance, the cover looks like an actual well-worn sketchbook, with worn edges, bent corners and scuff marks drawn on to illustrate, if you will, the overall feel of the work itself. The book sleeve has beautiful illustrations, but if you remove it, you'll see that the hard cover itself is embossed with the same gorgeous, full-color graphics. The end pages are beautiful as well: a map of Middle Earth written in Elvish graces both sides. They've even sewn-in a gold ribbon bookmark. It's wonderful to see that the publishers took the time to give this book the treatment this subject deserves. Because goodness knows fans (and if they're smart, film/art fans in general) will be keeping this item on their shelves for a long, long time.

Of course, my copy may not make it to my bookshelf for quite some time. I've still got hours of enjoyment ahead of me. It'll stay close by, so I can take a peek at it whenever the mood strikes me. Plus, I've got to show it off -- this book brings out the fan in everyone.

[Denise Dutton]