Tony DiTerlizzi recently attempted to track down the details of a tantalizing story that Sendak was considered and rejected by Tolkien as an illustrator for a new edition of The Hobbit. Tony makes a couple of statements in his article that I wonder about.
Each generation should have an edition of these timeless stories that speaks directly to them in a style and design that they are familiar with. If you don’t believe me, ask a group of fourth-graders to put down their iPhones and Wii game controllers and see what they think of Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for [Lewis] Carroll’s first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
While I agree wholeheartedly that it is wonderful to have new versions of old stories, in my experience, fourth graders enjoy Tenniel’s illustrations just as much as more recent renderings of Carroll’s story. (I’ve been doing a unit on Alice and her illustrators for several decades now so I do, ahem, know about this, probably better than anyone. See here, here, and here for a taste of what I do with Alice and fourth graders.) I’m still waiting for a children’s film adaptation that really fits the wit and humor I see in Carroll’s tale, but have found numerous more recent illustrators who have done some very cool things with it — say Anthony Browne, Helen Oxenbury, and Robert Inkpen.
I also was curious about this from Tony:
As those years passed and the book’s fame grew, Tolkien despised the fact that it was considered by many to be a children’s story, as indicated in a letter from 1959, “I am not specially interested in children, and certainly not in writing for them.”
I’d always thought that Tolkien considered The Hobbit a story for children and The Lord of the Rings for adults. Not so? I used to love reading it aloud to my fourth grade classes — felt very much a book for children to me.