(2011) Cor Blok, Harper Collins, £20, hrdbk, 159pp, ISBN 978-0-007-43798-6
J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has inspired fantasy aficionados for half a century. Among them 50 years ago was one Dutch artist, Cor Blok. He went on to paint scenes from the book. Following an exhibition of these he held in the Hague in 1961, Tolkien's publisher sent Tolkien some sample copies of Blok's artwork. Tolkien was so impressed that he soon corresponded, and then met with, the artist. This book is a compilation of these, the artist's Lord of the Rings inspired works.
Blok's style is in one sense minimalist: there is little or no background so that the eye inevitably focuses on the almost Lowery-like figures. It is also 'childlike', an adjective the artist himself recognises is used by those that both like and detest this style. The artist drew his inspiration for this style from Archipampanate manuscripts and murals of Central Barbarusia. At this point I should say that the couple of introductory editorial pages on this old art form intrigued me so much that I wanted to know more and so Googled (2011) 'Archipampanate' and 'Barbarusia' (especially as I could not find the latter indexed in either of my two global atlases). Sadly there only a handful of pages resulted and a couple of those were in reference to Cor Blok with little further information on either. Though the artist teaches about this art form he is clearly a better teacher and artist than he is writer, so the reader of A Tolkien Tapestry will remain very much in the dark over Archipampanate manuscripts and the murals of Central Barbarusia. Fortunately this is the only really downside to this volume.
Now, in art it is not so much the quality (however that might be defined) of works of art that is important but works' 'provenance'. (I mention this because in science – and SF2 Concatenation is largely run by scientists and engineers for scientists and engineers who enjoy SF: in science it is the concept and who shouts the loudest promulgating the concept that counts (cf. natural selection evolution, Darwin, Wallace, and Patrick Matthew). In short, it is the idea and imparting it that counts, and with 'natural selection' Darwin won with Wallace coming a close second, and Matthew a largely forgotten, if not ignored, footnote.) Here, regarding Cor Blok's works in A Tolkien Tapestry, there is a stack of provenance linking Blok's art to J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien was aware of Blok's work, corresponded with him and even bought a couple of his pictures. Indeed a photo of a letter from Tolkien to Blok is reproduced in this book.
At this point I should say that Pieter Collier has edited this book and provided a forward. He has done an excellent job. Blok himself provides an introductory chapter illustrated with some of his other work. The meat of the book itself is in the large section entitled 'A Tolkien Tapestry'. This presents the individual pictures that make up the Tolkien 'tapestry' in sequential order of The Lord of the Rings story. In the main it is one picture per page with the relevant paragraph quote from the book to which the picture relates. Occasionally there is more than one picture per page and very occasionally Blok will provide a very short additional comment. The pictures themselves are printed in colour on good quality, gloss art paper.
In one sense this is, in idiomatic terms, a coffee table book. However, in another it represents a body of artwork contemporary with and connected to, if not endorsed by, Tolkien and on The Lord of the Rings. As such, not only to those into pictorial art but genuine die-hard Tolkien fans, this is a book to add to their Tolkien collection. For the rest of us much depends on how heavily you are into The Lord of the Rings as well as into Cor Blok's artistic style. I suspect that many not so much into art, or less than die hard about Lord of the Rings, might be advised to first check out some of the images on the web and if you like these then get the book. As for myself, being an ignorant scientist (as opposed to a learned one), I do not know much about art but I know what I like, and I liked Peter Jackson's visual renditions. It is therefore up to you to make your own mind up as to Blok's visual interpretation of Middle Earth and its characters. Meanwhile we should be grateful to Harper Collins (who currently have the British rights to Tolkien's fantasy) to produce the volume to accompany the other of their Tolkien books even if (if not because) it is a little specialist.
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