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Ρresenting Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
This is my last and biggest collaboration with Mia Heath (the book minder) from the summer of 2022.
An epic bookbinding project for one of the most wonderful stories ever written.

Getting Lost in Middle Earth

I read Lord of the Rings back in early high school, right after the Hobbit. I’ve described the latter’s impact on me in the corresponding post, so I’ll just quickly say that LOTR’s beauty, scale and depth completely absorbed me.

I was exceptionally lucky because by the time I finished the books the films started coming out. Nothing like them had come before and -I dare say- ever since. Those who haven’t had the chance to watch them in cinema for the first time have no idea what kind of experience they’ve missed.

Miss K. originally commissioned me to bind the trilogy as a unique gift to her husband on whom Tolkien’s works have also had a significant impact. The Hobbit was actually commissioned after the trilogy, but since it would be finished first her devious plan was to use it as a diversion so that he would be completely unsuspecting there was more to come…!

Binding the Trilogy

Designing LOTR

Lord of the Rings is an epic saga. It deals with a lot of complex themes regarding war and its impact on those caught in it, the value of life, inner struggle, pain and enduring it, forgiveness, friendship, good vs evil, all in a way that is far more intricate and meaningful than it is usually given credit for. With these in mind I felt the bindings should be respectful, solemn in a way. They should look and be well-made, beautiful, but not in a way that draws the attention on them and away from the story. This led to an aesthetic that is in contrast with the pictorial and whimsical decoration of our binding for the Hobbit, thus reflecting the difference between those two stories.

The design is Mia’s work, who came up with it and also did the drawing I later used in tooling the decorations. The idea behind it was to show important locations found in each book, drawn using only a single, uninterrupted line (with the exception of few decorative details), an allusion to the fellowship’s journey.

Some of the locations were pretty straightforward, while others proved quite challenging, with Hobbiton being the most difficult. The final designs are elegant and imposing, while their minimalism compliments the wonderful texture of the leather.

In the fires of Mount Doom…” – Decorating the Edges

Although the Hobbit was finished first as a binding its edge painting was actually meant as a practice for the more challenging one intended for LOTR. The idea was that it should fool the eye just enough so as to be perceived as a continuation of the marbled papers -and vice versa- upon a hasty glance.

By the time we got to do the edge paintings for LOTR we had the process down fairly well. I would prepare the book blocks by sanding them to a very smooth finish and then Mia would do the painting.
She did many tests on books I keep around for this purpose and after a while managed to get the result as close to the marbled papers as possible, producing these impressive edges.

It couldn’t have been achieved without the help of Glenn Malkin who has made an excellent video illustrating this technique and also kindly answered some extra questions we had. Make sure to check his channel as he has quite a few instructional videos that I’m sure binders of any level will find interesting.

Maps, Titles and Rings

The maps in the original edition were printed as the endpapers which prohibits their re-use, so new ones had to be made. As in the Hobbit’s case, I had them printed on an expensive cotton paper that can be found only in one place in Athens, which happens to be very far away from the bindery. But it was worth the trouble as I wanted the maps to feel as real as possible, to have texture and be exciting to look at.

Round Titles – Again!
If you’ve been following my work then you’ll know by now my fondness for round titles, which I consider one of my trademarks. As such it was a no brainer to do round titles for LOTR, One Ring and all…

This however, as is the case with many other elements, posed a challenge. I’ll get a bit technical but bear with me as you might appreciate how even the smallest detail of a binding may often require problem solving.

The difference in length between the titles (with the 1st and 3rd book having rather long ones in contrast to the 2nd) created an issue concerning the lay out. The circle of the titles should be the same for all 3 books and at the same time it should look right on the thinnest spine, that of the second volume. After quite a bit of experimentation, which involved laying the longer title over many different sized circles, I found the optimum radius.

This then led to another issue: type size. I either had to use very small letters, so that the titles of the 1st and 3rd volume would fit within the circle but would also make the title for the 2nd volume appear tiny and ridiculously sparse, or use a “normal” size, with the second volume’s title looking ok and the other two unable to fit.

To solve this I condensed the 1st and 3rd volume’s title as much as I could, also using dots instead of gaps between words to save even more space. It wasn’t enough though, so I turned to a trick I’ve seen in old bindings, which is to use much smaller type for certain letters, snugged in the gaps left between or under the larger type.

More Rings…
Doing handsewn endbands is always on the table, as they’re classy, neat and look beautiful, but I find myself opting less and less for them in recent years. In this case they would create too much extra visual noise and would hardly be noticed between the colorful edges and marbled papers.

Instead, I made these from a lustrous black leather. The 9 rings are either a reference to the members of the fellowship or represent the rings given to the kings of men, who above all else desire power – as everyone knows…

Mount Doom and the One Ring – A Bookcase to rule them All

The bookcase deserves its own section in this post. It’s arguably the most complex bookbinding structure I’ve ever attempted and one that was a true nightmare to make.

I really wanted to push the envelope and create a unique display for the LOTR bindings. A case that wouldn’t simply be a nice looking protective shell but something that could stand out on its own. Something impressive and unique, that would intrigue the viewer’s eye and invite exploration through its texture and vivid colors.

Several different ideas and structures were discussed for a long time, going back and forth between simpler and more intricate ones. At some point the project was overdue and Christmas (oh, did I mention it was intended as a Christmas gift?) was growing ever nearer so by the end I suggested we settle for a much simpler structure from the options discussed up to that point.

But it bugged me. It didn’t feel bold enough, befitting the scale of LOTR or its importance in my heart. I pitched the idea for a case representing the One Ring being forged at the fires of Mount Doom, without having much to share with Miss K. apart from a vague but full of excitement description. To my delight she was intrigued and trusted me to move forward.

Here’s a comparison to give you just a hint of how complex this was… A regular book slipcase has 5 parts. A clamshell, which is quite more complex as a structure and requires precision down to half a milimeter to all its pieces, is comprised of 9 parts. Well, my case for LOTR has … 38!

Trying to plan, cut, cover and join all of these irregular pieces caused me headaches for days on end – not even joking. By the end I was exhausted but, much like Frodo, I had successfully taken the Ring to Mount Doom…

The marvelous marbled papers representing the lava-filled chasms of Mount Doom are, once more, made by the perfection-seeking Daniela from Papiers Prina.

Photoshoot and editing was done by Maria Siorba. She really managed to captivate and showcase the beauty, texture and intricate details of this project.

Last but not least I would like to make an honorable mention to the Greek Tolkien Society, the Prancing Pony, which were most helpful in providing me with lots of information for the originally planned designs. They didn’t make the final cut but their help and support is much appreciated.

For those interested the LOTR bindings were tooled using my:
Stylus Set
Versatile Typeholder
Dot Set