Tolkien publications for 2011 by Harper Collins - Q&A with David Brawn (27.04.11 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

TL. The year 2011 has started and so a great time to look back at some books that were released last year. First of all we saw the print on demand books, a lovely initiative, how has this been going? Or is it still too early to evaluate?

DB. The print-on-demand initiative started out as an experiment to reprint hardback editions of The History of Middle-earth, which originally went out of print about 15 years ago. We haven’t sold very many, but it was designed to be more of a service than a commercial enterprise – most people are content to buy paperbacks – though I have had some nice feedback from fans who have been able to complete their hardback sets at last.
The History of Middle-earth

TL. Do you think we will be able to order books like The History of Middle-earth through Amazon in the future?

DB. The hardbacks are made to order and are expensive to produce, so we can only sell them at the moment through the website, which has easy and secure ordering.

TL. We saw the publication of the fiftieth anniversary reissue of Christopher Tolkien’s masterly translation of the Icelandic Heidrek’s Saga. I'm very thankful for that! Can we expect some similar books to be reprinted this year?

DB. The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise is a great book, and after Sigurd and Gudrun I thought there would be a handful of fans who might also find this to be of interest but could not afford some of the second-hand prices an original edition was fetching. Christopher Tolkien took some convincing that anyone would be interested in it after all these years, so rather than market it widely we agreed that it would be perfect as a print-on-demand book. Again, those who have sought it out have told us how pleased they are to own a copy at last.

In the same way, we have just released English and Medieval Studies, which of course was not by Tolkien at all but was compiled for and dedicated to him. It’s another elusive little book that I thought fans might appreciate getting hold of – it contains an amazing mixture of contributors on topics close to Tolkien’s heart. W.H.Auden’s ode to Tolkien is almost worth the price alone! Hopefully we can do more of these print-on-demand editions – I’m open to suggestions, and providing we can clear the rights we aim to add to the series. A hardback reissue of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien should be the next one.
The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise

TL. Last month or so I made a scan from an original picture of Tolkien at Exeter College that is in my collection; this was used as cover for his book. Does this mean there will be made a reprint, or an update or who knows even a second part of The Great War?

DB. We have just reissued both Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography and John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War in B-format paperback with new covers. These are of course the seminal works on Tolkien’s life, and I felt that they needed a fresh look to attract more attention. John’s book was rather overshadowed by all the film books when it was first published in 2003, and there are parts of the world such as Australia that never published it, so it is good to relaunch it. We are taking to opportunity to release both books as ebooks for the first time as well, and I am also excited to report that Tolkien and the Great War is also available as a downloadable audiobook. John Garth has read it himself, and as with all non fiction it is great to have the opportunity to hear the author reading his own material – it really comes alive. I’m very sad that Humphrey Carpenter is no longer around to read his book on audio, but we’re planning for someone else to read it as an audiobook for release next year.

TL. This year it is exactly 30 years ago since the publication of Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien. Will there be made a 30th anniversary edition? And (this is a question I get asked sooo often) can we ever expect for another volume to be published?

DB. We are going to reissue the original Letters hardback as a POD, but I appreciate that what everyone is interested in is more letters. The biggest hurdle is the question of what to include and what to leave out, and I think Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien did a pretty amazing job 30 years ago to create an insightful book that was not bogged down by repetition or sheer weight of material. Not everyone has the stamina of the ardent fan! All I can say is that ‘More Letters’ is on our commissioning plan, and I would be surprised if we don’t at some point publish some more, but we have yet to determine exactly what shape that book (or those books) will take.
the letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

TL. Another project I have always dreamed about would be a book with the poetry by Tolkien, for example chronologically and nicely illustrated. Would something like that ever be possible?

DB. ‘Poetry’ is also on the commissioning plan. I think it’s been there longer than ‘More Letters’, though, so I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets by saying that!

TL. And a classic question, another one I get asked over and over again, will there be made a deluxe edition of The Unfinished Tales, or an illustrated edition?

DB. Unfinished Tales is a curious book, more akin to The History of Middle-earth in terms of structure than to narrative books like The Silmarillion. I doubt very much that we could sell enough copies to justify an illustrated edition, but we are reviewing our programme of deluxe editions and it remains a candidate for that treatment when and if we do any more.

TL. At the HarperCollins website I saw that next years Tolkien Calendar will also feature the art by Cor Blok. That sounds fantastic. I very much enjoyed this years calendar. Will there also be made a diary? Many people seem to miss that?

DB. We only ever intended to publish one calendar by Cor Blok, but as more and more of his paintings came to light, we realized that it would be possible to publish a complete book of his artwork, and as the book was coming out this year it struck us as eminently sensible to have a second calendar to coincide with it. It also got us out of a hole, as what we had planned for the 2012 calendar fell through! We had to stop publishing the diary, though, because the use of electronic calendars seems to have eaten a massive hole in the market for physical calendars and desk diaries, and sales are a fraction of what they once were. When faced with the choice of calendar or diary to consolidate sales, the calendar was the obvious publication to continue with rather than the diary.
Tolkien Calendar 2012 Cor Blok

TL. Now with the Hobbit movie in full production I guess there will be some reprintings done of the Hobbit or can we expect some new editions there?

DB. The Hobbit movies are still a little way off, and though we are making plans already about how to deal with them in terms of publishing, we have the 75th anniversary year of The Hobbit book in the meantime. We have just announced a range of new editions to commemorate the anniversary, which is a mixture of refurbished editions and brand new publications, all designed to draw attention to The Hobbit as a literary work and ensure readers of all ages take the opportunity to read and learn about the book before they see the films. I think it’s very important that people try to read a literary classic and create their own version in their heads before seeing a film, otherwise the magic of discovery from the book will never quite be the same again.

The flagship book of the anniversary year, which kicks off at the end of October (75 years after Rayner Unwin wrote that famous report for his father), is Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though most of Tolkien’s sketches, drawings, paintings, cover designs and maps for The Hobbit have been published over the years, they have never appeared together in one book, and when we started pulling them together, mostly from the Bodleian Library and the University of Marquette, we realized there were more than 100 pictures in all and that some had never been published or had been reproduced very badly or only in black and white. Everything has been scanned digitally for this book, giving really good detail, and Wayne and Christina have pulled everything together with a really clever approach to the text. This is a book as much for true fans as for art lovers who maybe don’t even know that Tolkien did his own illustrations, and it is remarkable how so many of those original drawings have influenced pretty much every single artistic interpretation of his book to this day. I hope the book will be a revelation to people, as well as a fantastic Christmas gift.

In addition, we have John Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit in a single hardback volume, with a few corrections and revisions to ensure it is fully up to date. I don’t think most people registered when we published it in two volumes that it incorporates the complete unpublished manuscript version of The Hobbit, which is in itself a really interesting read. It’s such an interesting book in the context of the anniversary and the forthcoming films.

We are also publishing a pocket edition of The Hobbit, which is a hardcover edition about six inches tall. It’s basically a hobbit-sized version of the book, complete and unabridged, of course, which looks amazing. It’s going to be the perfect excuse to buy The Hobbit as a gift for someone, and I hope we will also see it stocked in places you wouldn’t normally see books.

We are also refreshing our range of paperbacks, with The Hobbit and the three The Lord of the Rings paperbacks going up to B-format, in line with pretty much all current paperback publishing in the UK. The Lord of the Rings will still have their iconic black covers with the coloured rings on them, but should look cooler than ever in the larger format, and The Hobbit paperback is being reworked with a new design yet to be revealed.

The good news is that we have even more Hobbit-themed books planned for the actual anniversary in September 2012. One of these will be a facsimile of the original 1937 edition – we were going to publish it this year, but it felt better to wait until the actual anniversary, and it fits better with a couple of other things we are doing next year. Watch this space!

TL. Are there any other books we can look forward to this year? Something special? Something unpublished?

DB. Nothing really unpublished, apart from the pictures in the Art of book. I’ve always said, however, that to the reader everything is effectively unpublished until they read it, and I daresay that to 99% of Tolkien’s fans Mr Bliss is one such book. Our final offering for 2011 is a new edition of Mr Bliss. Instead of the facsimile format of the previous editions, this time we have taken the drawings and incorporated them into the text, and this conventional presentation gives a completely different feel to the story, really drawing you in. I think Mr Bliss is a lost gem of a book, and I hope this edition will finally see it get the recognition it deserves for its quirky inventiveness and its engaging storytelling. It will also be appearing as an ebook and an audiobook, read by Sir Derek Jacobi. He was in the studio a couple of weeks ago and his reading is amazing! It’s such a fun book, and I hope people will enjoy it.

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