Alan Lee (illustrator)

Last updated
Alan Lee
Alan Lee.jpg
In October 2016
Born (1947-08-20) 20 August 1947 (age 74)
Middlesex, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Education Ealing School of Art
Known forIllustration, painting, conceptual design
Awards Chesley Award
1989, 1998
Kate Greenaway Medal
World Fantasy Award
Academy Award

Alan Lee (born 20 August 1947) is an English book illustrator and film conceptual designer. He is best known for his artwork inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novels, and for his work on the conceptual design of Peter Jackson's film adaptations of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.



Alan Lee was born in Middlesex, England, and studied at the Ealing School of Art. [1]

As of 2007, Lee, his wife, and two children live in Chagford, Dartmoor, Devon, England. [2]


Lee has illustrated dozens of fantasy books, including some non-fiction, and many more covers. [3] Among the numerous works by J. R. R. Tolkien that he has illustrated are the 1992 centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings , a 1999 edition of The Hobbit , the 2007 The Children of Húrin , the 2017 Beren and Lúthien and the 2018 The Fall of Gondolin . [3] [4] Non-Tolkien books he has illustrated include Faeries (with Brian Froud), Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, The Mabinogion (two versions), Castles by David Day, The Mirrorstone by Michael Palin, The Moon's Revenge by Joan Aiken, and Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson. [3] [4]

He has illustrated retellings of classics for young people. Two were Rosemary Sutcliff's versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey —namely, Black Ships Before Troy (Oxford, 1993) and The Wanderings of Odysseus (Frances Lincoln, 1995). Another was Adrian Mitchell's version of Ovid's Metamorphoses —namely, Shapeshifters (Frances Lincoln, 2009). [5]

Lee made cover paintings for the 1983 Penguin edition of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. [3] [4] He also did the artwork for Alive! , a 2007 CD by the Dutch band Omnia, released during the Castlefest festival. [4]

Watercolour painting and pencil sketches are two of Lee's common media. [4]


Lee and John Howe were the lead concept artists of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films [6] and were recruited by director Guillermo del Toro in 2008 for continuity of design in the subsequent The Hobbit films, [6] [7] before joining Jackson when he took over the Hobbit films project. Jackson has explained [8] how he originally recruited the reclusive Lee. By courier to Lee's home in the south of England, he sent two of his previous films, Forgotten Silver and Heavenly Creatures , with a note from himself and Fran Walsh that piqued Lee's interest enough for him to become involved. Lee went on to illustrate and even to help construct many of the scenarios for the movies, including objects and weapons for the actors. He made two cameo appearances: in the opening sequence of The Fellowship as one of the nine kings of men who became the Nazgûl; and in The Two Towers as a Rohan soldier in the armoury (over the shoulder of Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn who is talking to Legolas in Elvish). [9]

Lee worked as a conceptual designer on the films Legend , Erik the Viking , King Kong and the television mini-series Merlin. [6] The art book Faeries , produced in collaboration with Brian Froud, was the basis of a 1981 animated feature of the same name. [10] [11]

Two years after completion of The Lord of the Rings film series, Lee released a 192-page collection of his conceptual artwork for the project, entitled The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook (HarperCollins, 2005). Peter Jackson said, "His art captured what I hoped to capture with the films." [12]

Books illustrated


For his 1978 book with Brian Froud, Faeries, Lee was runner-up for the fantasy Locus Award, year's best art or illustrated book. [13]

For illustrating Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson (1988), he won the annual Chesley Award for Best Interior Illustration [13] and he was a highly commended runner-up for the Greenaway Medal. [14] [lower-alpha 1] He also won the BSFA Award for Best Artwork, for that year's best single new image. [13]

Five years later, he won the Kate Greenaway Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book illustration by a British subject. The book was Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff, a version of the Trojan War story. [2]

For the 60th anniversary edition of The Hobbit, Tolkien's 1937 classic, Lee won his second Chesley Award for Interior Illustration (he is a finalist eight times through 2011). [15] For that year's work he won the annual World Fantasy Award, Best Artist, at the 1998 World Fantasy Convention. [16]

In 2000, he won the competitive, juried Spectrum Award for fantastic art in the grandmaster category. [17]

Lee, Grant Major and Dan Hennah earned the 2004 Academy Award for Best Art Direction for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King , third in the film trilogy. [18]


  1. Today there are usually eight books on the Greenaway Medal shortlist. According to CCSU, some runners-up through 2002 were Commended (from 1959) or Highly Commended (from 1974). There were 31 high commendations in 29 years including Lee and two others in 1988.

Related Research Articles

J. R. R. Tolkien English philologist and fantasy author

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, best known as the author of the high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

<i>The Lord of the Rings</i> 1954–1955 fantasy book by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. Set in Middle-earth, a place like Earth at some distant time in the past, the story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 children's book The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling books ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.

<i>The Hobbit</i> Fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a children's fantasy novel by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children's literature.

Christopher Tolkien British book editor, son of J. R. R. Tolkien

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien was an English and French academic editor. He was the son of author J. R. R. Tolkien and the editor of much of his father's posthumously published work. Tolkien drew the original maps for his father's The Lord of the Rings.

Brian Froud English fantasy illustrator

Brian Froud is an English fantasy illustrator and conceptual designer. He is most widely known for his 1978 book Faeries with Alan Lee, and as the conceptual designer of the Jim Henson films The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986). According to Wired, Froud is "one of the most pre-emiminent visualizers of the world of faerie and folktale".

John Howe (illustrator) Canadian illustrator, best known for his artwork of J. R. R. Tolkiens Middle-earth

John Howe is a Canadian book illustrator and conceptual designer, best-known for his artwork of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. One year after graduating from high school, he studied in a college in Strasbourg, France, then at the École des arts décoratifs in the same town.

Eagle (Middle-earth) Animal from J. R. R. Tolkiens legendarium

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle-earth, the eagles were immense flying birds that were sapient and could speak. Often emphatically referred to as the Great Eagles, they appear, usually and intentionally serving as agents of eucatastrophe or deus ex machina, in his legendarium, from The Silmarillion and the accounts of Númenor to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien fandom is an international, informal community of fans of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, especially of the Middle-earth legendarium which includes The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. The concept of Tolkien fandom as a specific type of fan subculture sprang up in the United States in the 1960s, in the context of the hippie movement, to the dismay of the author, who talked of "my deplorable cultus".

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the real-world history and notable fictional elements of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy universe. It covers materials created by Tolkien; the works on his unpublished manuscripts, by his son Christopher Tolkien; and films, games and other media created by other people.

The term Middle-earth canon, also called Tolkien's canon, is used for the published writings of J. R. R. Tolkien regarding Middle-earth as a whole. The term is also used in Tolkien fandom to promote, discuss and debate the idea of a consistent fictional canon within a given subset of Tolkien's writings.

The works of J. R. R. Tolkien have served as the inspiration to painters, musicians, film-makers and writers, to such an extent that he is sometimes seen as the "father" of the entire genre of high fantasy.

Do not laugh! But once upon a time I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story... The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

Ted Nasmith Canadian artist

Ted Nasmith is a Canadian artist, illustrator and architectural renderer. He is best known as an illustrator of J. R. R. Tolkien's works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

Terri Windling American writer and editor

Terri Windling is an American editor, artist, essayist, and the author of books for both children and adults. She has won nine World Fantasy Awards, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, and her collection The Armless Maiden appeared on the short-list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

Wendy Froud

Wendy Froud is an American doll-artist, sculptor, puppet-maker and writer. She is best known for her work fabricating Yoda for the 1980 film Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, for which she has been referred to as "the mother of Yoda", and creatures for the Jim Henson films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, known as the Brothers Hildebrandt, are American twin brothers who worked collaboratively as fantasy and science fiction artists for many years. They produced illustrations for comic books, movie posters, children's books, posters, novels, calendars, advertisements, and trading cards. Tim Hildebrandt died on June 11, 2006.

<i>The Silmarillion</i> Collection of J. R. R. Tolkiens mythopoeic works

The Silmarillion is a collection of mythopoeic stories by the English writer J. R. R. Tolkien, edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien in 1977 with assistance from the fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay. The Silmarillion tells of Eä, a fictional universe that includes the Blessed Realm of Valinor, the once-great region of Beleriand, the sunken island of Númenor, and the continent of Middle-earth, where Tolkien's most popular works—The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—take place. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien's publisher Stanley Unwin requested a sequel, and Tolkien offered a draft of the stories that would later become The Silmarillion. Unwin rejected this proposal, calling the draft obscure and "too Celtic", so Tolkien began working on a new story that eventually became The Lord of the Rings.

"The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" is a story within the Appendices of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It narrates the love of the mortal Man Aragorn and the immortal Elf-maiden Arwen, telling the story of their first meeting, their eventual betrothal and marriage, and the circumstances of their deaths. Tolkien called the tale "really essential to the story". In contrast to the non-narrative appendices it extends the main story of the book to cover events both before and after it, one reason it would not fit in the main text. Tolkien gave another reason for its exclusion, namely that the main text is told from the hobbits' point of view.

J. R. R. Tolkiens artwork Artwork by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien's artwork was a key element of his creativity from the time when he began to write fiction. The philologist and author J. R. R. Tolkien prepared illustrations for his Middle-earth fantasy books, facsimile artefacts, more or less "picturesque" maps, calligraphy, and sketches and paintings from life. Some of his artworks combined several of these elements to support his fiction.

Commentators have compared Peter Jackson's 2001–2003 The Lord of the Rings film trilogy with the book on which it was based, J. R. R. Tolkien's 1954–1955 The Lord of the Rings, remarking that while both have been extremely successful commercially, the film version does not necessarily capture the intended meaning of the book. They have admired Jackson's ability to film the long and complex work at all; the beauty of the cinematography, sets, and costumes; the quality of the music; and the epic scale of his version of Tolkien's story. They have however found the characters and the story greatly weakened by Jackson's emphasis on action and violence at the expense of psychological depth; the loss of Tolkien's emphasis on free will and individual responsibility; and the replacement of Frodo's inner journey by an American monomyth with Aragorn as the hero.

<i>Faeries</i> (book) 1978 book by Brian Froud and Alan Lee

Faeries is a book written and illustrated by English artists Brian Froud and Alan Lee. An illustrated compendium of faerie mythology, legends and folklore, the book explores the history, customs and habitat of faeries in the manner of a field guide, complete with hand annotations.


  1. Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. "Alan Lee Biography".
  2. 1 2 (Greenaway Winner 1993) Archived 2013-01-29 at the Wayback Machine . Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Alan Lee at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 15 July 2012. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Amazing Artworks By Alan Lee". Art. KlingPost. Archived from the original on 2010-12-07.
  5. "Shapeshifters: tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses". WorldCat. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 Alan Lee at IMDb
  7. "Guillermo del Toro Chats with TORN About The Hobbit Films!". 25 April 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2008.
  8. In a documentary interview on the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.
  9. "Cameos and Special Extras in The Lord of The Rings". Anonymous.
  10. "Faeries". Internet Movie Database. Executive producer Thomas W. Moore and others.
  11. Froud, Brian; Lee, Alan (1979). David Larkin (ed.). Faeries. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. ISBN   9780553346343.
  12. "The lord of the rings sketchbook" (British edition). WorldCat. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
  13. 1 2 3 Lee, Alan" Archived 2012-10-16 at the Wayback Machine . Index of Art Nominees. Locus Index to SF Awards. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  14. "Kate Greenaway Medal" Archived 2014-09-16 at the Wayback Machine . 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  15. "Chesley Nominees List". The Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards. Archived from the original on 4 November 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  16. "1998 World Fantasy Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. Archived from the original on 2008-09-22.
  17. 2000 Spectrum Awards. Archived 2012-10-19 at the Wayback Machine
  18. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King". AllMovie.

See also