It is always good to know some extra languages, especially when you are interested into Tolkien. The works by J.R.R. Tolkien have long been translated in many languages and are being read and loved all over the planet. Once in a while I read Tolkien related books or website articles in other languages - because outside the English speaking realm there are many fans who are active in there local area.
Interview with Benjamin Harff, upcoming Tolkien illustrator and creator of the Edel-Silmarillion
TL: Can you please tell me a little about yourself?
BH: I was born in 1980 in Euskirchen, Germany. I have always been interested in the manifold ways of art, especially painting & drawing as well as music. Later I learned other art forms also, such as poetry and martial arts. My father is a tiler, so I early realized that pure inspiration is useless without skill, knowledge and hard work. So my approach to art is very close to earth. You can compare this to a tree: Only with strong roots the tree can grow and unfold its beauty. You grow in two directions - to the darkness of the earth and the light of the sky. But your contact to earth is always closer than to the sky. I graduated at the Rhein-Sieg-Akademie für realistische bildende Kunst und Design in Hennef, Germany in Illustration and Graphic Design this year and now I want to work as an illustrator and calligrapher.
TL: When did you get interested into Tolkien?
BH: My first contact with Tolkiens books was in about 1991, when I was eleven years old. I was camping with some friends in the woods and we used to read to each other at the fireside, first from the Hobbit, then from the Lord of the Rings. These were experiences which left a very strong impression on me.
TL: Did you write the text by hand or was it typed?
BH: The text was typed. It would probably have taken a year just to write the pure text if I had written it by hand. But then it had been very „true“ indeed. If I had had that time - I am crazy enough to have it done.
TL: How long did it take to make this book?
BH: The whole process took about half a year, plus about half a year where I dealed mainly with the illustrations but also collected knowledge and made sketches for calligraphy. That may appear long, but you have to note that I also had to work for the financing of my studium and do a lot of other things for my exam.
TL: What were the biggest problems you faced in making this book?
BH: I had a lot of problems, but the main problem was my strict limitation in time and money. Looking back I cannot understand how it worked! For my exam it would have been enough to do calligraphy for only one or two chapters. But I didn´t want to have a book with maybe twenty printed and 380 empty pages! That would not have been worthy for a tolkien-work and I had better done a short story or so. But I thought: „This is your exam and maybe the last time that you can do what you want as an illustrator!“ So I did it, and couldn´t have done it with that fire, wouldn´t it have been a tolkien-work. And although this was extremely hard, the fire did not cease.
TL: What is the page you like best?
BH: I like the opening page best – the whole page is filled just with the word „Silmarillion“. It took the most time of all, I think about seventy or eighty hours.
TL: Was there only produced one copy?
BH: Yes. The Academy of Arts would have liked to have a copy, but I just could not finance a second one.
TL: Are you planning to put this book into publication, did you contact a publisher yet?
BH: No. The rights are with the Tolkien Estate, and I would gladly work for them, but they didn´t answer my requests until now. I will keep on writing to them, until I can afford a travel to Great Britain and just put the book on their table.
TL: Did you have permission from the Tolkien Estate to make this book?
BH: I made requests via the Tolkien Estate homepage, but didn´t receive any answer. I think there are only few to deal with the questions and they are daily flooded with mails, so that they just can´t read every single one. But it is just a personal artistic work and I do not make any money with it.
TL: Why did you create the Silmarillion and not another Tolkien book?
BH: This is partial answered above. With its mythological character the Silmarillion suited best, because the blooming of medieval calligraphy was also in a religious context. Also the very great span of time in the First Age gave room for many different styles in the title-pages of the single chapters, while in the „Hobbit“ or the „Lord of the Rings“ it would have been better to have an at some extent clear style with not so much differences. In this exam I had the possibility to play with all styles, put own ideas into them and find the one I like best.
TL: In the process of making this book did you learn more about calligraphy, manuscripts or the Silmarillion itself?
BH: Of course, yes! Although I had weekly calligraphy-lessons at the Academy of Arts for four years, I learned more than ever in these 12 months. I also learned how highly developed the designing and the techniques in the craftmanships of the middle-ages were. Finally, I realized how little respect is given to the written word in a world where you can gain any information with a few mouse-clicks. Maybe it is now the time to give the word an adequate garment.
TL: Will you now also make a Hobbit or even a Lord of the Rings?
BH: Tolkien will always be subject of my work, but now I first have to develop as an artist and illustrator and so do the work I get. There will be the oil-paintings, and there will be more calligraphy, but they can now only be done beside, after the daily work. But who knows, maybe one day HarperCollins or the Tolkien Estate get notice of me and want me to create something.
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