AL. Mark, how many years have you been a Tolkien collector?
I’ve been a collector for 15 years or so and a fan since a teenager.
AL. What first drew you to the world of Tolkien?
I read the Hobbit and liked it, but I loved Lord of the Rings. Like many people, I first read a few chapters and put it down. One day I picked it up and read it straight through. I was a changed person after that.
AL. I believe you have run a very successful collector books business for some years, is that correct?I evolved my book dealing from a paying hobby to help fund my own collecting, to serious book dealing business, then into original Tolkien and Fantasy art, which has evolved further now into this Festival and conference. I couldn’t see it looking forward but its seems obvious looking back. It has all been a dream to combine my passion with business in which being a good businessman is also a passion. I have sold some of the most valuable Tolkien books in the world. Every time I think I just got lucky, somebody else comes along and I make another big sale.
AL. Why do you believe you have succeeded in this area?
I believe the main reason I’ve been successful is because I went into dealing myself. I wasn’t happy with the service and attention I received from established book and art dealers, many whom are not actually fans of what they sell. This makes a difference. There was also a certain elitist snobbery to high value book and dealers, which I felt was inappropriate to the spirit of Tolkien. One day I thought; I can do this better and set out to do it.
AL. Some people might question your style of doing things or even the ambition - can you put those people's mind at ease?
I have a bad habit of thinking nothing is impossible, jumping straight in and ignoring people who say it should be done their way and not my way. This has resulted in ruffling a few feathers along the way and I’m sorry. The fact is in my experience too many things get talked about for years and years, and nothing actually ever gets done. I’m a doer and I admit that the results of some of my initial efforts could use more refinement. It is then that more people join in to make it better and better. It seems most people can’t see something it until they actually see it. I have a vision of something that is as clear as the real thing; I then set out to make it happen. As a true fan of Tolkien, the result this time will be very clear and true.
AL. Can you give us some idea of the value of some of the books, and also what kind of thrill there is in discovering something rare?
I think it’s the thrill of discovering along with the discovery something is rare. Rarity is a relative thing. Most 1st edition books aren’t that rare per se’ you can go out and buy one anytime, if you have a great deal of money. There are many Tolkien books and collectibles that are really rare, but this isn’t always reflected in the price. There are two types of collector, of anything; those who want one of what everyone wants and those that want one of what nobody has i.e. the truly scarce item. The former is a popular collector, the latter the more serious dedicate collector. Many start as the former and few become the later. It’s about degree of fellowship, passion and dedication as well as means, not absolutes.
Is collecting an odd thing? In fact, it is. It is not logical, sensible or even practical. It’s something that simply appeals to many people and consequently one item can start a lifetime of collecting. That people with affluence spend tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands on a truly rare book or rare item is relative to their means, and no more, or less reasonable than someone who spends £10. The root passion and interest is the equivalent as is the fellowship from being a collector.
AL. How would you distinguish between rarity and value?
I find it very trying when people mistake the value with the price. They ascribe their own value based on the price of an item, not on the uniqueness, merit and condition of the item itself. Often they are more concerned with the count of what they are collecting a neurotic sort of way than what they are collecting, and why? To me, these people aren’t true collectors, but have some compulsion. It could be argued some high value collectors have compulsion also, but to me there is one test of the true collector; knowledge and passion.
The true collector has learned and studied the things they are collecting, thus also know the value and uniqueness. It then becomes more logical that you pay a lot of money for something truly rare and unique, verses wasting money purchasing something overpriced on an on-line auction site, simply because everyone else does.
AL. What do you hope the Festival will do for collectors?
Some people sometimes seem consumed by the low value of something and then brag about it. I’d rather someone bragged about the high price than low price, as I feel that the latter is disrespectful.
There are some Tolkien collectors who started in the beginning or at least before the films, and obtain rare items and books for next to nothing. Now as there are many more collectors chasing fewer items, prices are naturally 100 or 1000 fold. Its extremely difficult for later collectors to obtain these items for a reasonable price, let alone what it cost in 1975!
Values and continuing rising value is partly what makes something a collectible, it’s not a sin as some people treat it. I can think few things people collect that aren’t valuable or that were once valuable and now declining in value. Being consumed with price, both cheap and expensive, it the same pointless extreme and diminished the true value.
AL. What made you decide to organise such an ambitious commercial event as The Festival in the Shire?The Festival is to me the “next level” for my Tolkien activity. I wanted to create a single, common worldwide platform to bring people that produce something Tolkien inspired or related, together with the fans that want them. This means commercial connections as well as a volunteers and hobbyists.
My experience in being a dealer and businessman gave me many insights. There are many people with financial constraints whom their Tolkien interests can’t ever be more than a free hobby.
There are others who derive their income and careers from it; like artists, scholars, authors and dealers. While the hobbyist would like to see everything offered for free, there would be very little progress in creative output. People can’t work for free and if they tried, there would be no future for Tolkien and Tolkien inspired or fantasy in general. In fact, commercial success is vital to the success of any Endeavour. It’s perhaps a sad reality we all have to make money in this world, but it is a reality. I could not devote this much time to Tolkien inspired without making an income, and neither can all the other people involved.
The festival is a world stage for all things Tolkien inspired; free and commercial. A trade show in some respects, but a fan meet in others. I try and combine both.
TL. Why did you decide to do this Tolkien festival in Wales?
Wales is where it all started. Tolkien’s very first inspiration was the Welsh language and culture. To fans in bustling, overcrowded cities, middle-earth is a place that no longer exists and is gone. Near my home is a place named after a legend of two giants. To me, Middle-earth is Wales, and very much alive. Welsh language is spoken which is what Tolkien created Sindarin from.
TL. Speaking about Wales, are there any locations we have to visit when being in Wales?I live in this part of Wales because it is a place of unspoiled natural beauty - while still being accessible. Many films have been shot here because the landscape has so few marks of humanity. It also has some of the nicest sandy beaches in the British Isles, which are not crowded. I recommend visitors to the festival plan a week or two week holiday, park their car and walk.
TL. Who will speak at the conference and what are the talks every Tolkien fan should follow?
The draft schedules are posted on the website. We’ve just added two more speakers and expect to add more over the few weeks. With the world in a recession people are making plans later and also changing them. Due to this we are disappointed to have lost a few speakers, but we will welcome them back next year.
TL. Why a conference on tolkien's Welsh influence?
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is an author of world reputation, but not many people know of his love for the Welsh language and his debt to Celtic literature. Welsh fascinated Tolkien from childhood, when he first encountered Welsh names on coal-trucks arriving to the railway station at the back of his house in Birmingham. In his youth he started creating an invented language based on Welsh phonology and grammar, which was later to become Sindarin, the language of the Grey Elves of Middle-earth.
Tolkien was familiar with medieval Welsh texts such as the "Mabinogion" and was fascinated by the Arthurian legend and knew of its Welsh origins. He made a number of trips to Wales, developed friendships with Welsh academics, and published his long narrative poem "The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun" in the New Welsh Review. tolkien's shorter works like Farmer Giles of Ham and Roverandom also betray his knowledge of the topography and legends of Wales.
Perhaps the most important proof of the role of Welsh on tolkien's imaginative mythology and his linguistic sensibilities is his 1955 O'Donnell Lecture "English and Welsh". In this lecture, which was delivered just a day after the publication of The Return of the King, the third part of his novel The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien commented on the Welsh flavor of many proper and place-names of Middle-earth, claiming that this linguistic style gave pleasure to his readers more than anything else.
This conference, which will take part in the heart of Wales, will concentrate on "Welsh influences in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien" and will explore all of tolkien's Welsh connections and inspirations mentioned above and many more.
TL. What can we expect to see at the Fan Exhibition?The fan exposition has a full 3-day schedule, just like the conference but the talks are more general Tolkien and Fantasy as well as on collecting and being a fan. It will also have an exhibit of books, original art and collectibles, but from large collections and from fans bringing their own items. I just got an email from a fan offering to bring a letter signed by Tolkien and a collector’s goblet. Visitors to the fan expo will see rare items as well as beloved collectables of all types. The fan expo is for the fans, by the fans as is the whole event. I’m simply staging it for all my fellow Tolkien fans.
TL. There seems to be a lot of entertainment during the festival! Who are the artists, musicians, etc that are performing?
I’m thrilled that so many people have offered to perform and as volunteers! The performers are all Tolkien inspired and truly getting into the spirit of the event - Fellowship in the celebration of all things Tolkien inspired.
AL. The venue was changed earlier this year to the current location near Aberystwyth - can you tell us what prompted this change of venue?Sadly Y Plas, the first venue, has been subject to mismanagement and a dubious financial footing. It is a publicly owed and run venue. It’s future is very uncertain at the moment. You can read about this in the local papers. As much as the Festival would have helped, there was too much uncertainty and I couldn’t risk the future of the festival. A privately run venue is more secure in the current economic climate (I hope).
TL. I noticed you have a very interesting Festival Journal. How did you create this idea and where can people read it?
It was an idea that just developed from the team. We needed something to create a regular following of the festival progress and also informing potential new fans what the Tolkien community is all about. I was lost with what form it could take until Colin Duriez came to see me one day. Colin has been selflessly helping us ever since. I’d like to say something personal about Colin if he it doesn’t embarrass him (which it will). He is very wise in his knowledge, not just smart but also a genuinely generous and caring human being. I was asked recently what character I would be from Lord of the Rings, I don’t know yet, but Colin is definitely Gandalf to me.
AL. Can you give us some indication of the kind of support the Festival in the Shire is enjoying from sponsors and others?
Our support is from small exhibitors and sponsors while the big players naturally want to see our first festival a success before committing. We are therefore very dependant on advanced ticket sales and exhibitors as far as the size and scope of the first event. We can build only what people want, which is demonstrated by their support through ticket sales.
AL. How important is the support of the fan base to the Festival?
This is the first event of its type and with such dedicated focus. It combines aspects of past events, success and failures, but also new elements with aims to develop organically in the different fan interests’ area, not on the basis of what the festival producers want and think. It’s vital therefore the fans and those who produce things for fans help shape the content and direction. Yes commercial things depend on money, but they also depend on genuine interest and action. This means attendance, participation and breaking the mould on how people view the worldwide Tolkien community now, and what they want it to become in the future.
AL. Are there any dangers to the whole enterprise?
I fear a complacency and constraint both due to the global economic environment and from increased fractionalisation from the different Tolkien interests and fan areas. There are too many clubs more interested in “their Tolkien” and not “our Tolkien”. There is a genuine fellowship within these clubs, which is charming, and I believe in, but in their desire to preserve the fellowship of their club, they create an unintentional atmosphere of elitism and exclusion to new comers. This will ultimately destroy and not preserve the future for Tolkien’s works, the essence in which all fans love.
For example, as a long time Tolkien book fan I resented the Lord of the rings Films being made. However, I now see had they not been made, Tolkien fandom and its essence were at risk of dying out one generation to the next. The films have opened the door to millions of new fans, but we have not provided a vehicle of learning and education to develop them as new fans or to perhaps inspire them to create their own interpretations of Tolkien’s great works. There are too many barriers with more going up and not coming down. Their needs to be a one-world Tolkien, but the prejudice must be broken down first.
If it remains on an open public, generation to generation, culture to culture and is allowed to develop and adapt, the formats and outward expressions may vary and evolve, but its essence will remained preserved, forever. The vehicle, at least as an experiment, is a dedicated, multi-faceted festival, conference and “trade show” in some respects. The producers of Festival in the Shire have no interest in changing or shaping the future of all things Tolkien Inspired, but simply wish to create single platform for all those who do. The ball is not in our court, but the publics.
This is not a time to sit back and watch to see what others do. This event is for the world’s fans, by the fans. It is not our event - it is yours! If no one supports the festival, it won’t last, it’s that simple!
TL. How can people book for this event and how can people find accommodations?
Tickets can be purchased on the buy now page of the website. People can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel and B&B lists are on the website as is a link to Visit Wales tourist site. We also offer on-site camping.
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