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Dr Tankard, a University of Otago senior lecturer, loves to trawl through libraries and old books looking for the stories behind the stories - journeys that have taken him around the world.
His latest find shows that while Tolkien thought little of the copious amount of unsolicited art that was sent to him, there was one artist who hit the mark.
''He had no interest in Lord of the Rings being illustrated. Literary works travel from mind to mind. He wanted people to have their own vision.''
However, when Mary Fairburn (78), who now lives in rural Victoria, sent Tolkien a series of nine illustrations in 1968, depicting various scenes from the trilogy, Dr Tankard said correspondence between the two showed that Tolkien took a liking to the works and they were quite similar to drawings he had done himself.
Tolkien bought one one of the pictures and indicated he might be interested in using them in some form. When he realised his publishers were not going to use them he became less enthusiastic and Ms Fairburn asked for them back.
Dr Tankard said she got ''quite over-excited'', although she was prone to having disagreements with people.
Dr Tankard said he would like to publish a calendar from the prints. Lord of the Rings illustrated calendars were quite common when the books were first popular, although Dr Tankard said Tolkien himself probably would not have approved of the art.
He said Ms Fairburn was doing another three pictures to make up a calendar and it would be nice if she got some recognition from it.
''I would like Mary to be the person who gets some recognition from it. I get some academic street cred and recognition from the university.''
Dr Tankard will speak at the Dunedin Public Library on Wednesday at 6pm.