Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mr. Bliss - J.R.R. Tolkien

Mr. Bliss
J.R.R. Tolkien
Copyright: 1982

From the back of the book:

Mr. Bliss, a man notable for his immensely tall hats and for the girabbit in his garden, takes the whimsical decision to buy a motor car. But his first drive to visit friends quickly becomes a catalogue of disasters. Some of these could be blamed on Mr Bliss's style of driving, but even he could not anticipate being hijacked by three bears...

J.R.R Tolkien invented and illustrated the book of Mr Bliss's adventures n the 1930's when his own children were very young. This imaginative tale of eccentricity is faithfully reproduced here exactly as he created it - with lots of detailed and uproarious colour pictures.

First published in 1982, fifty years after it was written, this definitive edition has been newly reproduced from the original notebook. With the complete text printed alongside Tolkien's distinctive handwritten pages, the comical story and colourful illustrations are sure to delight readers of all ages.

I bought the book just over a year ago now, and finally got around to reading it yesterday. Well worth it. Although the book is somewhat expensive, at least as a children's book at $38 in Canadian dollars, when everything is considered, the price isn't as extravagant as it first seems. This edition is in a beautiful red slip-case, and the book itself has a stitched binding and is cloth-covered (I've been told that a stitched binding is the best type there is).

Not having ever seen the standard edition of Mr. Bliss, I can't say how the illustrations in this facsimile edition compare, but I've got to say that I like them. You can see each mark used in making the pictures, and I love the variations in tone from differing shades and pressures. According to the book Artist and Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, the illustrations were done in pencil, ink and coloured pencil.

I noticed quite a few similarities to The Hobbit, of course, seeing as Tolkien was writing this one in the 1930's as well - things like calling the hill by the village 'The Hill' etc, and the attitudes of some of the other characters. Also names. Some of the names, I have to wonder if they were in-jokes of sorts. Harper-Collins calls this the definitive edition, and it is, however I'd love to see an edition edited by someone like Flieger to look at the parallels, society of the time, other fairy-tales and also some of the stories and myths about Mr. Bliss that have built up, such as the ones I remember hearing about somewhere that compare it to Tolkien's own driving.

Amusingly, I believe I found an error on the text page for page 44: the text says: "It was as very expensive time." However, as best as I can make out the handwriting, it says "It was a very expensive time." Perhaps someone with a different edition or who is better at picking out Tolkien's handwriting could double check?

Mr. Bliss seems to have been written for children slightly younger than The Hobbit is marketed to, but this edition is definitely geared towards adults. I call it full of charm, both in the story and the illustrations. Love it!


Marchbanks said...

Yer right about the typo. In my copy (Houghton Mifflin, 1983, 1st American edn.) the facsimile and the text both read "It was a very expensive time."

And copies of the first edition aren't difficult to find; on ABE, you would expect to pay anything from $10 to $35 US for a copy, depending on condition.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tip, Marchbanks. I'm going to have to look into that.


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