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The Collector is the title of a 1963 novel by John Fowles. It was made into a movie in 1965.

Plot summary

The novel is about a lonely young man, Frederick Clegg, who works as a clerk in a city hall, and collects butterflies in his spare time. The first part of the novel tells the story from his point of view.

Clegg is obsessed with Miranda Grey, an upper-class art student. He admires her from a distance, but is unable to make any contact with her because of his nonexistent social skills. One day, he wins a large prize in the British football pools. This makes it possible for him to stop working and buy an isolated house in the countryside. He feels lonely, however, and wants to be with Miranda. Unable to make any normal contact, Clegg decides to add her to his 'collection' of pretty, petrified objects, in hopes that if he keeps her captive long enough, she will grow to love him. After careful preparations, he kidnap Miranda using chloroform and locks her up in the cellar of his house. He is convinced that Miranda will start to love him after some time. However, when she wakes up, she confronts him with his actions. Clegg is embarrassed, and promises to let her go after a month. He promises to show her "every respect", pledging not to sexually molest her and to shower her with gifts and the comforts of home, on one condition: she can't leave the cellar.

Clegg rationalizes every step of his plan in cold, emotionless language; he seems truly incapable of relating to other human beings and sharing real intimacy with them. He takes great pains to appear normal, however, and is greatly offended at the suggestion that his motives are anything but reasonable and genuine.

The second part of the novel is narrated by Miranda in the form of fragments from a diary that she keeps during her captivity. Clegg scares her, and she does not understand him in the beginning. Miranda reminisces over her previous life throughout this section of the novel, and many of her diary entries are written either to her sister, or to a man named G.P., whom she respected and admired as an artist. Miranda reveals that G.P. ultimately fell in love with her, and subsequently severed all contact with her. Through Miranda's confined reflections, Fowles discusses a number of philosophical issues, such as the nature of art, humanity, and God.

At first Miranda thinks that Clegg has sexual motives for abducting her, but as his true character begins to be revealed, she realises that this is not true. She starts to have some pity for her captor, comparing him to Caliban in Shakespeare's play The Tempest because of his hopeless obsession with her. Clegg tells Miranda that his first name is Ferdinand (eventual winner of Miranda's affections in The Tempest).

Miranda tries to escape several times, but Clegg is always able to stop her. She also tries to seduce him in order to convince him to let her go. The only result is that he becomes confused and angry. When Clegg keeps refusing to let her go, she starts to fantasize about killing him. After a failed attempt at doing so, Miranda passes through a phase of self-loathing, and decides that to kill Clegg would lower her to his level. As such, she then refrains from any further attempts to do so. Before she can try to escape again, she becomes seriously ill and dies, probably of pneumonia.

The third part of the novel is again narrated by Clegg. At first he wants to commit suicide after he learns of Miranda's death, but after he reads in her diary that she never loved him, he decides that he is not responsible and is better off without her. Finally, he starts to plan the kidnapping of another girl.

Fowles' own explanation of the purpose behind The Collector

Fowles explained in his follow-up book The Aristos, that the main point behind the novel was to show what he felt to be the danger of class and intellectual divisions in a society where prosperity for the majority was becoming more widespread, particularly power (whether by wealth or position) getting into the hands of those intellectually unsuited to handle it (for this, Fowles was accused by some critics of being a fascist).


There have been numerous presentations and adaptations of The Collector, including film and theatre. The Collector also appears in various songs, television episodes, and books.

Film version

The novel was made into a film in 1965. It was adapted by Stanley Mann and John Kohn and was directed by William Wyler (who turned down The Sound Of Music to do it). It starred Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar.

Theatre versions

  • A stage version of the novel (also written by John Fowles) was performed in London in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Marianne Faithfull starred as Miranda. It was badly received by the critics.
  • It has also been performed at the Camden's People Theatre.
  • Another adaption was written by Mark Healy and first performed at Derby Playhousemarker in October 1998.
  • Mark Healy's adaptation was also performed at the 'Arcola Theatre' in Hackney, London from 26 August to 20 September 2008.


  • A song inspired by the novel, also called "The Collector", was written by Sonny Curtis. The song was recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1966 and was included on their album Two Yanks In England.
  • The song "The Butterfly Collector" by The Jam (the B-Side of the 1979 single "Strange Town") was inspired by the book, but the song was in fact about Soo Catwoman, who upon the implosion of the Sex Pistols, attempted to become part of The Jam's entourage. The song states the band's contempt for those obsessed with "collecting" reflected fame from contemporary celebrities as a substitute for living their own lives.
  • The song Prosthetics by metal band SlipKnot on the self-named title was also inspired by the book
  • The song "The Collector" by Nine Inch Nails(With Teeth). The lyrics relate to this book.


The basic plot of "The Collector" - a lonely maladjust kidnapping the object of his or her desire - has become a standard plot device of a number of TV shows, ranging from soap operas to crime series. Some more explicit references to John Fowles' book are:
  • In the Criminal Minds episode, "The Fisher King", The Collector was the book used by the kidnapper to send a coded message to the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Other references to the book included a clue of a butterfly, as well as the style of the kidnapping.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horrors X", Comic Book Guy uses the persona "The Collector" as a supervillain and kidnaps Lucy Lawless from a comicbook convention to take her back to his lair to marry her.
  • Seven Days, a UPN Television Series, had an episode called The Collector, a serial killer who chloroformed and kidnapped women including the show's heroine Dr. Olga Vukavich (Justine Vail).

Books and comics

  • In the book The Dark Tower by Stephen King, Finli O'Tego, also known as The Weasel, reads The Collector. Later Finli noticed another character, Dinky, reading Fowles's The Magus, and asks him what he thinks of the author. This is clearly referential to Fowles's The Ebony Tower, which shares some thematic elements, as well as a similar title with The Dark Tower.
  • In the book Misery by Stephen King, the character Paul Sheldon compares his situation to that in John Fowles's novel. A quote from The Collector prefaces part three.
  • In Neil Gaiman's comic The Doll's House there is a reference to The Collector. One episode of the comic, titled as "Collectors," is about a convention of serial killers. One of the films shown at the convention is The Collector, and one of the killers mentions the novel favourably, as he considered himself for the first time "understood," presumably in the character of Freddie Clegg.

Associations with serial killers

There are several cases in which serial killers, spree killers, kidnappers, and other criminals have claimed that The Collector was the basis, the inspiration, or the justification for their crimes.

Claiming corruption by media influences is a court room gambit dating back to Charles Manson, but despite the press coverage such defences receive, not one acquittal or clemency in sentence has ever been secured on these grounds.

Leonard Lake and Charles Ng

In 1985, Leonard Lake (with help from Charles Chi-Tat Ng) abducted 18 year-old Kathy Allen and later 19 year-old Brenda O'Connor, in hopes of fulfilling his fantasy of owning his own "Miranda". He is said to have been utterly obsessed with The Collector and plotted the abduction and holding of the women. Lake and Ng subsequently abducted, raped, and tortured the women. Lake described his plan for using the women for sex and housekeeping in a "philosophy" videotape. The two are believed to have murdered at least 25 people, including two entire families. Although Lake had committed several crimes in the Ukiah, Californiamarker area, his "Miranda" operation did not begin until after he moved to a home in remote Wilseyville, Californiamarker, owned by his ex-wife's family. There he built a bunker into the side hill which included a soundproof cell with a disguised entrance. It was at this point fellow ex-Marine Charles Ng joined Lake following Ng's release from Ft. Leavenworth Prison. The men videotaped some of their milder interactions with Allen and O'Connor in a tape labeled "M Ladies" using a camera stolen from the Dubs family, whom they kidnapped and murdered in the early stages of their crime spree. Lake's "Miranda" plan was cut short after only three confirmed females (Dubs, Allen, and O'Connor) had been held (and then murdered) because Ng was caught shoplifting a vise in San Franciscomarker. Lake was arrested when linked to a car belonging to one of their murder victims, Paul Cosner. At that point, Lake committed suicide taking a cyanide capsule and Ng escaped to Canadamarker. Ng was subsequently extradited back to California. The videotapes and a diary written by Lake were found buried near the bunker in Wilseyville. They revealed that Lake had named the plot Operation Miranda after the character in Fowles's book.

Christopher Wilder

Christopher Wilder, known as a spree/serial killer of young girls, had The Collector in his possession when he was shot and killed by the FBImarker in 1984.

Robert Berdella

In 1988, Robert Berdella held his victims captive and photographed their torture before killing them. He claimed that the film version of The Collector had been his inspiration when he was a teenager.


  1. Christopher Wilder, sadistic serial killer of beauty pageant winners - The Crime Library - The Crime library
  2. Lasseter, D. (2000). "Die For Me." New York: Kensington Publishing Company
  3. Bob Berdella - The Crime library

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