If you’ve ever seen the original paperback versions of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the prequel The Hobbit, you might have wondered why the cover illustrations looked so odd. There’s a simple reason: The artist who did them never actually read any of the books, but went on brief descriptions of them. “I tried to get a copy through my friends,” she said in an interview later. “I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, so I had sketchy information at best.” Needless to say, the illustrations puzzled Tolkien.
“I must ask about the vignette,” Tolkien wrote his publisher, “what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale (I hope you are one) could think such a picture would please the author.” The image was supposed to depict Hobbiton, a landscape very much inspired by the tranquil English countryside.
Source: The Bizarre Book Covers for the First U.S. Paperback Editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Books, Made By an Artist Who Had Never Read Them – Flashbak