On rainy days, moments when I wasn’t outside playing and the hours before bed when I was little I’d occupy myself with some of my mum’s books on mythology, faeries and giants. One book stood head and shoulders above the rest for me: Alan Lee and Brian Froud’s ‘Faeries’, I’d happily lose myself in the tales about Welsh Selkies, the Scottish ‘Unseelie’ faerie court and the celtic Tuatha Dé Danann. My childhood had long been filled with tales and stories from this book and Alan Lee’s drawings always mystified and amazed me.
Only a few years went by after I first started learning about this rich world of folklore but at 7 some seriously big news hit my family… The Lord of The Rings trilogy was being adapted into a film…
Many people my age grew up with Harry Potter, it was a huge part of many families and many childhoods all over the world, my family however, were die hard Lord of The Rings fans, of the books, of the world, and, bringing it back round to the topic of this post…of Alan Lee’s artwork for publications of LOTR.
I may have been young but boy do i remember the excitement (and slight anticipation) that everyone was feeling with this news. Everyone was talking about it, the summer before the release of the first film we were on holiday in The Lake District and my brother, Josh was ploughing his way through the books so he could finish them before the Fellowship came out; literally every time we stopped, half way up a mountain, in a forest he’d get his book out and read away: this was serious business for our family.
Seeing the films themselves at the Cinema was a HUGE event for our family. Every christmas for three years we’d make our way to the cinema as soon as possible after the realease, me, my brother, mum, dad and my grandma. We saw each film at least twice. For the third and final installment of the trilogy pretty much the whole family went together. Myself, my mum and dad, my brother, my three cousins, my aunt and uncle and my grandma all sat together on a row. It was the most AMAZING thing I had ever seen. I think the only other experience at the cinema that has come even close would be seeing Interstellar. To this day, seeing the battle on pelanor fields is the best thing I have ever seen on the big screen. Yes the special effects are slightly outdated now but I think it still holds itself up.
Basically, what I am getting at here is that the LOTR books and Tolkien in general is extremely important to me and to my family. Everyone has at least two copies of the trilogy, we have books on the art, maps, creatures, battles. So suffice to say when myself, my mum and grandma got the chance to meet Alan Lee – the man behind some our favourite LOTR art, behind many of the design aspects of Peter Jackson’s adaption, the man behind at least half of the book ‘Faeries’ that brought so much joy to myself and my mum – we were rather excited and emotional about it.
The event itself was at the Waterstones in Hull and consisted of a short talk by the man who organised the night and Tolkien’s links with Yorkshire and more importantly Hull. Shortly afterwards Alan Lee himself gave us a detailed mini lecture almost, on his drawing and painting techniques, his process during the production and filming of the LOTR films and eventually producing the illustrations and paintings that pair the new Beren and Luthien book that has just recently finally been put together by Christopher Tolkien using Tolkien’s many stories and unfinished writings on the mythological pair. Alan Lee, I can guarantee to anyone, could make anyone interested in sketching and painting processes. I could have listened to him talk about his passion for hours. Hearing him talk about Peter Jackson as just ‘Peter’ so casually was crazy; Peter Jackson is a bit of a holy figure in our family, we all agree that no one else would have been able to adapt the three books so well. A great part of this talk was when Alan Lee actually mentioned the book my mum had brought with her for him to sign, the one that served us both so well, ‘Faeries’. He spoke about his long lasting fascination with mythology and folklore and I think both myself and my mum felt a resonance with that.
After his talk there were a few questions from the audience, but in usual fashion and in contrast to Harry Potter fans (c’mon it’s true), everyone was a little shy so there were only a few. After the questions came the book signing…The queue was pretty big but we managed to snip in before it got too big and we were determined to all get our copies of ‘Beren and Luthien’ as well as my mums copies of ‘LOTR’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Faeries’ (she is always a bit extra). We finally reached the front of the queue and my mum went first, quietly saying hello to an idol of both of ours, I couldn’t hear all that was said but I did hear Alan’s reaction when he saw the copy of ‘Faeries’ that she had brought with her (from 1984 I might add), it went something like: ‘Oh my gosh! I haven’t seen one of these in a long time!’ They had such a lovely little chat and he was already looking incredibly humbled when I walked up and said ‘Hi Alan, that was just my mum that you were just speaking to.’ He seemed to surprised that two people from the same family had come to see him. He signed my copy of ‘Beren and Luthien’ and I thanked him for everything that he had written about the Tuatha De Danann in the ‘Faeries’ as it was central to my inspiration for the dissertation that I ended up writing for my University Degree. Again, he was incredibly humble and asked me what my dissertation was about, he was smiling the whole time and told me that it was lovely hearing that and thanked me for coming to see him and for telling him that. It was when my grandma then walked over and pointed over to me and my mum, and said ‘That’s my daughter and granddaughter’ that I think he almost got a little emotional. He exclaimed saying ‘three generations of ladies from the same family?!’ It was the most beautiful and lovely moment and he even demanded that we all get a photo together.
Some people say that meeting an idol is always a mistake, keep them where they’re supposed to be, up on their pedestal. I say nah, you just need better idols: like Alan Lee.