15 March 2012

Interview with Tolkien Library's Pieter Collier

As a collector of all things Tolkien, I’m always excited at the prospect of meeting others who share my passion and having an opportunity to glimpse into their collections - especially when it comes to books.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Pieter Collier of TolkienLibrary, a longtime fan of J.R.R. Tolkien whose vast book collection became the inspiration behind creating a website aimed at offering guidance to other aspiring collectors.

When/how did you first get interested in Tolkien?

Before I could read I knew all about hobbits, elves and orcs. My elder brother who was into role-playing and table top games introduced me to the stories when I was still a kid. There were even Tolkien books in my house before I could read them, so probably I was just lucky! I must have read the Hobbit very early on and read the Lord of the Rings when I was around 11 years old. By the time I was 15 years old I did already hold several Tolkien books, so my interest in Tolkien did start early on. I remember going to the library and working myself through all the books, going to second hand book stores trying to buy any Tolkien book I could find. If I look back at that time, well before people the internet days, collecting Tolkien books was something completely different back then!

Which of his books is (or are) your favourite?

It depends from day to day, or even season to season,… but my absolute favorite must be The Silmarillion. It is a book that keeps growing on you. The more you read it, the deeper you get in the tale, the more you understand all elements inside, the less you can understand how one person managed to write it. While at first I found it a rather difficult book to read, it is now my absolute favorite.
Next to The Silmarillion I have two other tales I like very much, namely The Notion Club Papers (an abandoned novel by Tolkien that was published in volume 9 of the History of Middle-earth) and Leaf by Niggle.

Do you have a favourite scene from any of his books?

Again, that depends from the moment I’m reading. Probably every time I re-read the books I do have another favorite moment. There are so many moments that touch me deeply. Some of my favorite passages in Tolkien’s books are: Gandalf introducing the dwarves to Beorn, Riddles in the dark, Boromir’s last stand, tale of Gondolin, Beren & Lutien and probably one of the most touching scenes is Húrin’s stand during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)… “Aure entuluva!”

What inspired you to begin the “Tolkien Library” website?

To be honest, I was doing a course to build websites and needed to have a small play-ground. I was completely addicted to collecting Tolkien books, talking about Tolkien and so thought to share all about my passion online. In the beginning I thought to list all the books I had in my collection, but never succeeded to do so. It grew out into a website that brings news, interviews, announces books and now also has a rare Tolkien book store. It has been a fun ride so far and while I don’t have enough time to really work on the Tolkien Library website I do still hope to find more time in the future to improve it a lot.

How many items are in your collection?

Difficult to tell but it must be over 1500 Tolkien related books at the moment. I have been moving around a lot and now have four kids who all want their own space (and not rooms full of books) so have sold most of my collection that I had gathered over the years. I plan to keep selling until I end up at around 300 books. The general idea is to turn quantity in for quality!

Of the many books in your collection, do you have a favorite?

Yes of course, almost every book in my collection does have a tale. Come to my home and I’ll be able to spend some hours with you showing all the books and telling their own story. My most precious book must be the set I first read, a 1st printing of In de Ban van de Ring (the Dutch translation of The Lord of the Rings). Next to that I do treasure a super deluxe The Silmarillion signed by Christopher Tolkien, which is one of the most beautiful copies ever produced and extremely difficult to find.

What is the oldest or most valuable item you have in your collection?

That is hard to tell. The oldest item must be a small postcard signed by Arthur Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien’s father), the most precious will be one of the many signed Tolkien books that I hold inside my collection.

The core of my library is a large amount of books from Tolkien’s personal library and a collection of handwritten letters by J.R.R. Tolkien. But at the moment the absolute top of my collection will probably be an original photograph of J.R.R. Tolkien relaxing next to his favorite tree, which is signed to the front and back. I’m really lucky to have started to collect early on… it would be really expensive to acquire most of the books inside my collection these days!

Have you seen The Lord of the Rings films? Do you feel they did justice to Tolkien’s stories?

Yes of course I have seen the movies. I went to see them in the cinema and have seen them a couple of times later on. But in general I am not a movie lover and prefer the books over the movies. While I believe Peter Jackson did create a piece of movie history and probably the best possible rendition of the books. To me it was a scary and difficult experience. Now I don’t mind to much any more, but I recall to be very angry and disappointed after seeing the third movie. In the end the movies were produced for a mass audience and not for Tolkien nuts like myself, but I found it very hard to see some scenes and changes. I truly thought leaving out the scouring of the Shire, to me the essence of the books, was a painful mistake. What disturbed me the most was the miss-use of language. In the books you only need one sentence to find out the race or person who is speaking. OK, it is all English, but the subtle differences are extremely fine. In the movie any character could speak lines of other persons or even races and so destroying the strongest element in the books. But I have to be honest, the movies were brilliant and when I see them today I can truly enjoy what Peter Jackson gave us.

In your experience as both a collector as well as an avid reader of Tolkien, do you think more people have become interested in reading his books as a result of the films being made?

Yes, there is no question about that. About one year before the movies something changed. Suddenly there were many Tolkien fans, many collectors and especially many more rare items came on the market. Suddenly everyone started reading and collecting and prices for books jumped to unseen heights. The movies really changed everything. Especially the value of the books went up, but the quality of items that came up for sale went down.

Several years ago, you managed to track down the Dutch artist Cor Blok, whose Lord of the Rings artwork was so impressive that Professor Tolkien actually bought three pieces for himself. After getting Cor Blok, HarperCollins, and the Tolkien Family in compliance, most of these previously long-lost illustrations made their way into A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to Accompany the Lord of the Rings, which was just released in September. What was that experience like for you?

That was a very nice experience of course. It is not every day that you get asked by a publisher to produce a calendar and a book. I was very passionate to locate the missing art works by Cor Blok, after I spoke with him on a Tolkien event in Holland, and somehow my passion inspired others. I’m so extremely proud to have been part of this. I just hope people do like the book. While I am a big fan of the art of Cor Blok, it is just like with Tolkien, either you like it deeply or you don’t like it at all.

Do you have any advice or recommendations for others who may be interested in starting a collection of their own?

There are many things I could tell to starting collectors. But if there is only time to say one thing I would advise them to go for quality and not for quantity.

Do you think you’d ever be inclined to write a book on Tolkien or collecting in general?

It is something that is bound to happen one day. Let us hope sooner than later.

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