Out of all the esteemed artists who have created images of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, Ted Nasmith is probably in the top five somewhere.
Heck, he'd probably be higher on the list if it weren't for John Howe and Alan Lee, because his paintings of Middle Earth are lushly detailed, and rich with light and colour. And the "Tolkien Calendar 2009" has some of his lovelier pictures that were created for the illustrated "Silmarillion," full of ice and fire, light and shadow, and loads of orcs, Elves and ancient humans.
The cover obviously is a gorgeous picture of the Elves' white ships from Valinor, sailing into the bay of a white-and-gold city against a mountain. I don't know if that's supposed to be Valinor or not, but the whites and golds against the stone and grass is truly striking.
And inside, there are some far less pretty pictures -- though they're no less striking. We have a sky filled with smoke and flames as those same Valinor ships are burned, a winding phalanx marching across a snow-covered plain, a misty purplish forest where orcs are ambushed by an army of Men, and a woman weeping by a hillside covered in skulls, skeletons, half-rotted corpses, and rusted swords, shields and helmets. Lots of vultures and crows as well.
But it's not all doom'n'gloom in these pictures -- one picture shows a haunting forest with a shining river, while another has a river rushing out of three cavelike gates under a mountain. And there's a brief glimpse of the legendary Elf Luthien -- though you can't see much of her because she's wearing a big cloak -- riding a gigantic dog underneath a pale sun.
And the last three are the prettiest -- one has three figures congregating at a frozen waterfall, surrounded by the ruins of a burned forest. Another has a somber row of men walking alongside a river to a small bridge. And the last has Tuor on the side of a stormy sea with swans flying over him, and with dark clouds forming over a distant cliffside castle.
Ted Nasmith really outdid himself when he created these illustrations for a special illustrated edition of the "Silmarillion," and his love for Tolkien's original book is evident in every image he created. It just drips from the pages. There's no shying away from the darker facets of Tolkien's tales (Fire! Skulls! Swords! Battles!), but he doesn't let us forget that Middle-Earth is also a place of surpassing beauty.
This is partly conveyed by all the colours: blue skies, purple or blue mists, grey overhanging clouds, blindingly white snow, shockingly orange flames a bloody haze over the "Hill of the Slain," and a purplish sky over the escaping Luthien. And he makes great use of light and shadow -- there's always a dark edge to the more sinister pictures, and loads of warm light when there's a lack of overhanging doom. It really makes you feel what's going on.
But the best thing is the intricate, delicate details that Nasmith puts into it -- the individual boards on the White Ships, the stars above Luthien, the moss on river rocks, a series of waterfalls (seriously, every other picture seems to have a waterfall!), and the bare rafters of a ruined citadel. You can tell by looking how much love and attention was put into making them that good.
Ted Nasmith's "Tolkien Calendar 2009" gives us a few glimpses into the "Silmarillion," and fills these images with plenty of detail, shadow, light, and vibrant colour. Definitely a good way to spend the year.