Saturday, 23 January 2016

Mythical Earth - Miniature Figurines and Middle Earth

Mythical Earth was an unofficial range of Lord of the Rings figures that helped kickstart fantasy wargaming and fantasy role playing. JRR Tolkien and his estate were always very jealous of minding the interests of Middle Earth. Rights to produce figures as well as the rights to produce media such as films were firmly under lock and key, away from grubby commercialism and the misrepresentation of Tolkien's intellectual property. Well, eventually they gave in, and the rest is history.

Pauline Baynes' cover art for the combined volume of Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings

Miniature Figurines, a go getting company of industry bad boys, in 1972  just went off and did their own thing. Everyone knew what the range was all about, surprisingly the lawyers never appeared knocking on the door. For a range of figures, it's fairly comprehensive, covering nearly everything except Gollum and Galadriel for instance.

                                                  Elf on a horse,      

The figures are classic Minifigs, detail is implied rather than gouged out, and the poses are a little stiff, bearing in mind the moulding process. The design process for the figures draws heavily on the artwork of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, specifically the illustrator Pauline Baynes. The horses are indicative of this period of Minifigs, graceful and delicate, just like Baynes pictures.

Illustration taken from Once Upon a Time Blogspot

Pauline Baynes also illustrated the Chronicles of Narnia. Both writers were at Oxford, Baynes worked with Tolkien and then with Lewis, becoming friendly with both authors. Her work with Tolkien was felt by some to have captured the essence of what Middle Earth was all about, the words descriptors for her artwork. Tolkien did not consider her for an illustrated Lord of the Rings edition though, writing that she would have been unable to rise up to his noble and awe inspiring work. What an self improtant arse.

The Narnian Army, Giant Bombrdom and Centaurs, Illustration from

                        Painted models from

The Minifigs giant bears a remarkable resemblance to the Baynes representation of a giant, as do many of the figures, such as the Centaur and Pan. I have to think it is more than reasonable to look at the artwork and see parallels in the figures, but I believe there is more connection than that. The Mythical Earth range goes up to 60, then next goes to 100 and 101, for the Centaur and Pan. I think this was an unfinished project, and that the last 2 figures were seen to be outside the Middle Earth canon, and which were I feel, the start of a range of Narnian figures. The Giant can also be considered to be crossing between both genres. Giants feature heavily in Narnia. The only instance of Giants featuring in Lord of the Rings, is when the Fellowship are forced off the mountain to take the route through Moria. I hope I have not put a target on my back for this remark!

from The Silver Chair,

Where are the figures now? Two of the figures have turned up on the Minifigs site care of Caliver Books, along with the beautiful and exotic range of figures in Valley of the Four Winds. The ranges were sold for licence by Minifigs to the USA for strictly sale in the US. The original moulds did not go, but masters for production did. However, the moulds were made using silicone, instead of vulcanised rubber, and consequently, the figures produced are between slightly and noticeably smaller than the original UK figures!! Some of the metal used is different as well, as it has a high pewter/tin content for a slightly lighter figure. With the advance of e-commerce, restrictions on sale to specific geographic regions were effectively unenforceable. There are relatively a lot of US produced figures around as generally, Minifigs tanked and US traders baled out of them, disposing of stock.

Original advert  October 1974, from deartonyblair.blogspot

Minifigs advert, not dated, from deartonyblair.blogspot

The original master moulds are somewhere in the Minifigs stash, held by Caliver, and indications are that Valley of the Four Winds UK produced figures are being collected to produce fresh masters for new production, leading some people to dispose of collections before they are made worthless. No such moves have been noted for the Mythical Earth range, but the figures are generally available over time, as collections surface and are traded out. 

Useful and interesting sites

interesting analogue history of miniature figures in the uk

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