Would you like to see an edition of The Hobbit illustrated by artist Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame ? Well, you can’t. It almost happened, but didn’t, and all because that notorious curmudgeon J.R.R. Tolkien got his nose out of joint, putting the kibosh to what could have been a very cool edition of The Hobbit .
In 1967, Sendak was asked by Tolkien’s U.S. publisher to illustrate the book’s 30th anniversary edition, but before Tolkien, would okay the project, he asked Sendak to send a few sample sketches. This reasonable request annoyed the artist, but he went ahead anyway and created two drawings, one of them of Bilbo and Gandalf.
When the US publisher forwarded the “samples”, the second of which pictured wood-elves in the moonlight, for Tolkien’s review, a huge boo-boo occurred. The editor mislabeled the drawings, identifying the wood-elves as hobbits. This faux pas angered Tolkien so much that he refused to see any more sketches from Sendak.
Today, the only place to see “samples” of the collaboration that never happened is at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale.