Barbara Remington, a prolific illustrator and designer whose work included iconic covers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, has reportedly passed away at the age of 90. Remington is best known for illustrating Ballantine Books' paperback editions of Tolkien's fantasy novels, which began to be published in 1965 and quickly gained a cult status amongst readers. According to The New York Times, Remington died on January 23rd in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, with her longtime friend John Bromberg citing breast cancer as the cause of death.
As Remington revealed in an interview with Andwerve, her work on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit covers came about on a very tight deadline.
"Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away,” Remington revealed. “When they commissioned me to do the artwork, I didn’t have the chance to see either book, though I tried to get a copy through my friends. So I didn’t know what they were about. I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, and so I had sketchy information at best.”
“When Tolkien saw the fruit tree, he asked, ‘What are pumpkins doing in a tree?’ Of course they weren’t pumpkins, but he wasn’t sure what they were,” Remington added. “He was especially perplexed about the lion on the cover because there are no lions in the story. He requested that Ballantine remove the lions from the cover, so they painted them over for later books.”
While Remington might not have read Tolkien's body of work before designing the iconic covers, she had since grown to become a fan of his work.
"After reading his work, I was in awe of Tolkien,” Remington revealed. “I knew there was something special about him. If I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ first, I don’t think I could have drawn the cover art.”
Remington was born on June 23, 1929 in St. Paul, Minnesota, to an artist father and a political activist mother. She began serving as a freelance illustrator and designer in the 1950s, with a career that also included work in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and issues of the iconic children's magazine Highlights.
After divorcing her first husband, Remington became heavily involved in New York's beatnik subculture. She became known in the community for her homemade crafts and supplies shop, which she opened with her second husband in the late 1960s. She also developed a reputation for welcoming anyone to stay at her East Village loft, and for creating sketches of performers at the Max's Kansas City nightclub. Decades later, Remington moved to Thompson, Pennsylvania. She is not survived by any immediate family members.