So the tale goes, in the late 1960’s, as “The Hobbit” was nearing its 30-year anniversary, the publisher invited Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”) to reimagine the classic tale. Still fully involved in the world he created, J.R.R. Tolkien requested a few sample drawings prior to fully approving Sendak’s involvement, to which Sendak begrudgingly obliged. At this point, it seems fate decided to intervene. From the LA Times:
As Sendak noted passages for possible illustration and sketched in the margins of his copy of the book, the publisher prepared the art samples for Tolkien’s approval. The editor mislabeled the samples, however, identifying the wood-elves as “hobbits,” as Sendak recalled to Maguire. This blunder nettled Tolkien. His reply was that Sendak had not read the book closely and did not know what a hobbit was. Consequently, Tolkien did not approve the drawings. Sendak was furious.
In hopes that all could be smoothed over between the two, the publisher arranged for a meeting in Oxford while Sendak was in England touring for the U.K. release of “Wild Things.” The day before their meeting, Sendak suffered his first major heart attack. He was 39. Sendak spent several weeks recovering in a hospital in Birmingham. He never met with Tolkien, and the project was abandoned.