Travels in the Space Station Wagon: The Sub Shop Lord of the Rings Mural

I’ve sampled many of this galaxy’s un-Earthly delights, including fantastic sandwiches at Columbia, Missouri’s simply named Sub Shop. There’s a few of them across college burg, but the original location is tucked away in a sleepy corner of downtown.

I had visited this chill establishment often while living in the area as a youth, and I try to hit it up when I pass through. The vegetarian sub w/ bacon is my weapon of choice (toasted, natch). It’s interior is spacious, with a hippie vibe typical of a sandwich shop in a college town. But what will catch your eye if you’re a fantasy genre fan (and if you’re reading this, there’s a better than average chance that you are) is an awesome mural depicting characters and events from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

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The mural is old, scribbled on, and covered up in places with potted plants or posters, but you can clearly discern moments from Tolkien’s epic; like Gandalf’s Fireworks, The Flooding of Isengard, and Eowyn vs. the Witch-King. I first saw this years before I was even aware of Middle-Earth, but after I had read the books it hit me like a hobbit hits a bowl of Longbottom Leaf. I couldn’t find an artist’s signature anywhere on the work, the staff couldn’t tell me much about it, and an internet search turns up bupkis.

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The charm of the murals lies in their crudeness, simplicity, and earnestness; they look like something out of an Old World church, or like they could have been painted on the wall of a tavern in Middle-Earth after the events of the War of the Ring. You can almost hear the opening of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore.”

Some of my favorite bits are the saurian orc, and Aragorn listening to the ground to tell how far ahead the orcs who captured Merry and Pippin are. He looks like he’s saying “I…I just can’t do this anymore, guys. Too depressed.”

I also love how all the images are contained within rings, and in the overlapping areas are arrows, shields, Bilbo’s window, Boromir’s Horn of Gondor, a Hobbit pipe (with pipe leaf!), and most awesomely the Elven lembas bread in its leaf wrapping.

It’s always great to see a depiction of Lord of the Rings independent of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. While I love those movies and their excellent design work, they’ve kind of…monopolized the popular imagery of Tolkien’s world. It’s always refreshing to see older or alternate takes on Middle-earth; some of my favorites are by the amazing Brothers Hildebrandt, with their hyper-detailed yet dreamlike LOTR paintings:

Or how about Michael Herring’s work, which graced every copy of The Hobbit or the Rings books in every public school library in the 90s. Remember?

Art like this seems more grounded, “realistic” I guess…like it could have taken place during our Middle Ages. Then there’s even more stylized examples like Barbara Remington’s mural (split across the covers of the 3 LOTR novels), looking like some kind of badass Norse scroll:

Barbara Remington LOTR

Nowadays a lot of Lord of the Rings art cleaves more towards the works of John Howe or Alan Lee, which makes sense as they were the primary concept artists for the Jackson films. Again, I love their takes on Tolkien’s quasi-Europe, but since that style has primacy at present I really appreciate seeing the world of LOTR through an alternate lens.

So if you ever wind up in Columbia MO, the downtown location of Sub Shop is a great place to grab lunch while you soak up some cool Lord of the Rings art from the time before the epic was known worldwide. At the far end of the wall they have what looks like a few old Ren Faire photo stand-ins!?

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Space Station Wagon Bonus: Dig this early animated adaptation of The Hobbit, released a decade before the more well-known Rankin-Bass film. The film is made from cool fantasy storybook style illustrations, and was apparently put together to hold on to the film rights to the book (this is the same reason 20th Century Fox releases a terrible Fantastic Four movie every decade or so). Read the full story over at The Escapist, and enjoy this odd little movie that was screened exactly once in New York City to people cajoled in off the street:

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