Anyone who knows me well will know I refer to myself as a hobbit. Most probably think it is self-deprecating but, in my mind, it’s magic! With my curly hair, well, I think I am some outcrop of the hobbit race….thankfully, though, I do not have big hairy feet. Imagine my delight when I learned that a visit to Hobbiton, in The Shire, would be on the itinerary for my visit to New Zealand! I was beside myself with glee! I could not wait to see the place where the great director, Peter Jackson, a Kiwi through and through, had created a life-like vision of Tolkien’s world.
You begin in Rotorua, and board a bus marked “Hobbiton” in gold curly script. The driver tells you the tale of Jackson’s love of New Zealand, and how he was drawn to the place owned by the Alexander family, who still farm the land. When you arrive, there is a little building, with a tiny shop, and then you board another bus, one which takes you up a windy road, past what look to be roughed out hobbit hole doors. I craned my neck forward with great intensity, looking for The Party Tree, or a glimpse of a path that would lead to The Shire. Finally, after about five or ten minutes, the bus pulls over and you are at a gate. Walking through that gate is like slipping into Narnia; you pass from this world into one that you’ve read about. As a fan of Tolkien’s work from about the age of twelve, I’ve always been drawn to the place where people have curly hair like me. (I don’t often see people with the same crazy hair….so I guess I knew, even then, that I might be adopted….) Also, I love anything with wizards and otherworldly creatures, so it’s my cup of tea, literarily speaking….if that’s even a word!
Walking the path, you suddenly turn a corner and find yourself right next to someone’s yard, with a tiny mailbox and, above the knoll, a chimney that pokes up above the green, or a half window that seems out of place and context….unless you imaginatively figure out the size and scope of the hobbit house underneath your feet. (Like the Tardis, in Dr. Who’s world, hobbit holes are bigger on the inside than they seem, initially, on the outside.) Fantasy worlds always have dimensional rifts and perceptions of space and time are often skewed….think of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and its doorway, through the wardrobe, or J.K. Rowling’s platform in the London Underground, which only certain people can see and cross through. For me, walking into The Shire felt like what it must feel like to walk into Narnia or Hogwarts.
I was most amazed by the feeling that I might *actually* come across an honest-to-goodness hobbit! The garden was meticulous, with a scarecrow and a cat named Pickles. You could see the little hoe and rake that someone had just put down to rest next to a furrow and you felt as if they had just popped home for tea and a little ‘feet up’ session. Not surprisingly, the outsides of the hobbit holes are evocative, with windows that are populated with little knick knacks and cheery curtains. When you do get to one or two that are open to the public, you realize it is all an illusion. You can enter into a small space behind the door, but it goes nowhere really, unless it served the director’s purpose. The internal sets were all built and housed elsewhere. In your mind, though, hobbits populate the houses and you know they’re just in there hiding out, until the crazy tall humans leave the area.
The Party Tree is, above all, amazing in size. It seems to hover over the entire space, protectively almost. There is a little teeter totter near its base, along with a swing, so you feel, again, as if you’ve interrupted a hobbit’s party. It takes all you have not to go and swing on the swing, but you mustn’t because you’ve been told by the guide that you shouldn’t touch things. I had a problem, though, I must admit; when I was left alone for a few minutes, my mind began to twirl out of control….”I wonder if they would miss a fake apple, by that front door?” or “That little cup isn’t a big deal…surely that’s not needed….” I’m not a thief, nor a kleptomaniac, but I have tendencies toward hobbit hoarding in my head, it seems. What I couldn’t stop myself from doing was running up the path to one of the hobbit holes and ringing the bell that hung outside. It just called to me….I was helpless. As soon as I rang it, I thought “Oh, God, what have you done!? You never do things like this….and the guide has told you not to touch anything that’s a film prop!” I turned bright red….but I will never regret that bell ringing episode for as long as I live.
My new friends, Sue and Rob, from Espanola, were alongside me for the tour. I’m sure I was annoying beyond measure! Sue, knowing I was a huge fan of Tolkien and of Frodo and Bilbo in particular, stopped me outside of Bilbo’s house. Above the house, on the hillside, is a wonderful big green tree. What the guide told us is that Jackson was unhappy with the original, “real” tree, so he had this one made. The leaves were tinted the appropriate colour and never fell. (Well, they didn’t fall often….but they did that day!) Sue slipped me a fabric leaf. I had been lagging behind the group, so hadn’t heard the story in full. She had to explain to me that she had found a little fabric oak leaf on the path beneath Bilbo’s house. I was ecstatic. That leaf is now in a little antique vase in my house….so I didn’t have to snag a cup or fake apple! After all is said and done, well, the leaf did fall on the ground on its own, and it needed a new home, so why not a Northern Ontario, Canadian home?
The day went much too quickly and was topped off by a pint of cider in The Green Dragon Inn. Walking inside there is also a bit of a trip, if you’ll pardon the 1960s phrasing. You enter through a wonderful old wood door, into a hobbit-filled world. There are little notes posted all over, advertising hobbit events. One hobbit is looking for a new gown, or a seamstress, while another hobbit is looking for someone to join his band, playing flute or tin whistle. It is a completely illusory world….such that you really don’t want to leave. Reality looks shoddy in comparison…much less light and fun.
I’ll be forever thankful that I got to visit Hobbiton last month, in Matamata, New Zealand. I would love to go back again…and maybe I will. I had hoped to find my ‘hobbit husband’ there, but it didn’t pan out. (Shocker!) Still, I returned to my hobbit homeland and, as a result, now carry the spark of Tolkien, and of Jackson’s cinematic creation, in my heart.
I walk, now, with grateful hobbit spirit and spark….and I will carry it into my new school year!