Most Tolkien fans only know me as the person behind this website and an avid Tolkien book collector. When I was a kid I started my adventure by reading a well-read copy of The Hobbit. It did not take me long to discover The Lord of the Rings and other books by and about Tolkien. Soon I embarked on a quest to discover anything there was to learn about him. In 1992 I went to some Tolkien exhibitions, and got inspired by them to take my hobby of collecting even further. This was my personal push out of my hobbit hole’s front door and it took me into realms I did not even know existed. On the road I learned to know many people and learned many things about Tolkien and the world he had created. Soon I was sitting on a big Tolkien book collection, my own personal hoard and enjoyed it very much like Smaug enjoyed his treasure.
One day I decided that while collecting and writing about it online was fun I wanted to meet some other people and started to go to some meetings and once again Tolkien took me to places I would never have been gone before and I learned to know people from all over the globe who I could share my passion with. And so it happened 5 years ago, that I ended up talking with the illustrator Cor Blok, at a Tolkien meeting in Holland.
Cor Blok manages to deftly sidestep the slavery to meer representation that most fantasy artists fall foul of. Anyone who has read Tolkiens’On Fairy Stories and letters to Pauline Baynes can see why Tolkien appreciated a more abstract, graphic and symbolic approach to illustrating his work, and understood how representational images provide a too limiting version of something.
The majority of illustration commissioned for Tolkien attempts to usurp the primacy of the text by present a visual ‘world’ that can be entered into, with historical trappings and detail of costume, expression and place that grounds the figures in a singular form. Cor Bloks’ images do not infringe upon the imagination of the reader, we do not ‘see’ Frodo as Cor depicts him, the images leave the viewer free to determine for themselves ‘what he actually looks like’ in ways that more representational approaches deny. Rather than focus on the detail of an imagined version of Tolkiens’ world, we instead can see how characters feel, their relations to each other.By talking to Cor Blok I embarked on one more mission and collecting once again took up another meaning, for I had learned that many of his paintings had been sold and there was no way of knowing how they looked like and who owned them.
It took me years to collect all pieces of the puzzle and while at first I had no intention to ever do much with the info, my passion somehow engaged others to aid me and even engaged the publishers and Tolkien family to print a calendar with all Cor Bloks’ art. Just like Cor did not need to depict realistic characters I no longer needed to own the pieces I was looking for and enjoyed finding the treasures like any collector enjoys finding a rare Tolkien item.
At first I started my quest online looking for any info on Cor Blok’s Lord of the Rings that could be found. But it did not take long to realize that, next to the pieces that had already been published in Tolkien calendars, postcards books and Realms of Tolkien, there was not much to be found. Also getting in contact with the artist proofed to be difficult and after writing to all universities and museum where he had worked, no one seemed to know where Cor Blok lived. In the end it was the Amsterdam University Press, who had released his book calledBeeldvertalen (‘Translating images’, an introduction to the interpretation of visual images), which was able to give me his postal address. By then I had also had contact with members of the Dutch Tolkien Society who provided me with info about Cor Blok’s past exhibitions and had provided me with some pictures of some of his unpublished art.
Now I’m happy to announce that the Tolkien calendar for 2012 will present even more Cor Blok art and that there was also released a book that brings together all the Lord of the Rings art by his hand, now exactly 50 years after they were created.
A Tolkien Tapestry – Pictures to accompany The Lord of the Rings
Fifty years ago, shortly after The Lord of the Rings was first published, Cor Blok read the trilogy and was completely captivated by its invention and epic storytelling.The breadth of imagination and powerful imagery inspired the young Dutch artist, and this spark of enthusiasm, coupled with his desire to create art that resembled a historical artefact in its own right, led to the creation of more than 100 paintings. Following an exhibition at the Hague in 1961, JRR Tolkien’s publisher, Rayner Unwin, sent him five pictures. Tolkien was so taken with them that he met and corresponded with the artist and even bought some paintings for himself.
Many of Cor Blok’s paintings had been sold in the ’90s and were sort of lost. After a meeting with Cor Blok in 2006 I embarked on a quest to find many of the missing paintings. Now it is finally possible to present the complete series and show them all together in one book. The series bears comparison with the Bayeux Tapestry, in which each tells an epic and complex story in deceptively simple style, but beneath this simplicity lies a compelling and powerful language of form that becomes more effective as the sequence of paintings unfolds.
The approximately 100 full-colour paintings in this new book are presented in story order so that the reader can enjoy them as the artist intended. If one looks at the art works one by one you can easily tell the complete tale of The Lord of the Rings. So all the paintings are accompanied by extracts from The Lord of the Rings and the artist also provides an extensive introduction illuminating the creation of the series and notes to accompany some of the major compositions.
Many of the paintings appear here for the very first time. Readers will find Cor Blok’s work refreshing, provocative, charming and wholly memorable – the bold and expressive style that he created stands as a unique achievement in the history of fantasy illustration. Rarely has an artist captured the essence of a writer’s work in such singular fashion; the author himself agreed, and what higher accolade is there?
About Cor Blok
Cor Blok was born in The Hague in 1934, and attended the Academy of Fine Arts. After graduating in 1956, he worked at the Gemeentemuseum until 1965, where, among other roles, he compiled a catalogue of the museum’s large collection of works by Piet Mondrian. During this time he also painted about 140 pictures inspired by The Lord of the Rings, a selection of which was exhibited at The Hague. When a sample of his paintings was sent to JRR Tolkien this led to a correspondence and eventual meeting with the author, who bought two paintings and was presented with a third. Cor Blok lives in Amsterdam, where is currently at work on a graphic novel.
And here is a video produced by Librarie Mollat Bordeaux who did an interview with Cor Blok in Paris, France.