All it’s cracked up to be: a visit to the Shire, an afternoon at Hobbiton
I remember the first time I discovered The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My Dad had a drugstore in Nelson, Nebraska, where I spent quite a bit of my time after school and on weekends. One day I discovered–much to my dismay, being a bookish child–that at the end of certain selling seasons, the clerks would tear the covers off the books and magazines (and comic books!) and send them (the covers) back to the publishers for credit, and throw the actual reading materials into the trash bin in the back room.
On trash day, they’d be hauled away to the dump by Mel Houser, Nelson’s trash man.
The first time I discovered a pile of coverless books in the trash bin, I wanted to cry. I couldn’t believe all those sad, pathetic ruined books and magazines. It seemed such a waste! But then, when my dad said that I could have as many coverless books and magazines and comic books that I could dig out of the trash bin and carry home, I dried my tears and went to work. Digging.
So, my enormous library in my little girlhood bedroom was made up largely of paperback books with no covers. I can still remember many of the titles that I read first from those trash bin books: Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, among others. I’d drag the books home by the armload, arrange them on my shelves, pick out one to read, get a snack (one must do these things in the proper order, eh?) and quietly shut the door to my room.
Then I’d sit down to read. Not bad for a junior high student, eh? I have no doubt that those armloads of purloined treasure, coverless books from my Dad’s trash bin, helped shape my own reading and writing tastes to this day.
What a blessing that Dad carried such great books at his store, and that there were so many excellent ones that didn’t sell! What a blessing to have a Dad with such great taste in literature. I was doubly, triply blessed, blessed, blessed.
Reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was one of those watershed moments, from a reading point of view. I loved it. Not only did I adore Tolkien’s ability to create a new and fascinating world, I loved the Hobbits and the world that they lived in. I loved their fondness for good food and their fondness for home and domestic tranquility. I loved their vast and fanciful pantries and larders. 🙂
I also loved the fact that Bilbo–though he clearly, clearly would rather have stayed at home, where it was cozy and safe–could, and did, gird his loins to go on an adventure–for a compelling cause–even though it was way out of his comfort zone.
I felt a kinship with Bilbo then, being a shy child to whom nearly anything was “an adventure,” and I feel a kinship with Bilbo today, when–still–nearly anything is an adventure. Gosh, you know this, gentle reader. I write this as I sit in the early morning hours in a house in New Zealand, so I seem to be on an adventure at the moment. 🙂 Blessed, blessed, blessed.
“‘I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
‘I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” –Tolkien, The Hobbit
“In a hole in the ground lived a Hobbit . . . And not a nasty, dirty, wet hole full of worms and oozy smells. This was a Hobbit hole. And that means good food, a warm hearth… and all the comforts of home.”
The first time we visited New Zealand, five years ago, we didn’t visit the Hobbiton movie set, though we really wanted to. We were on the slimmest of shoestring budgets, and it’s not cheap to visit this popular attraction. But we were determined to make a visit happen this time. It was totally worth the effort to get there. This location is the largest “green set” in the world. It is, of course, where many scenes from the movie version of “The Hobbit” were filmed.
Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings film series, actually spotted the Alexander Farm–a 1200-acre livestock ranch, made up of perfect grassy rolling hills, dotted with sheep–during an aerial search in 1998, and decided that the area was “like a slice of ancient England”. Alan Lee, the set director, said that the location’s hills “looked as though Hobbits had already begun excavations.”
I personally think it looks more like a slice of heaven. It’s just unbelievably pretty, but most of New Zealand seems to be that way.
The New Zealand army agreed to bring in heavy equipment to make about a mile’s worth of road into the site from the nearest highway, and also to do initial earth moving. The tour guide explained to us that they were trying to keep the movie set a secret from the folks who lived in the area, so they said that the army was doing practice maneuvers in the area. That wouldn’t have satisfied me. They catered to 400 people a day, after all, during the set-building and filming–that’s a lot of traffic for such a bucolic, rural area! I suspect the folks who lived around probably knew something else was afoot.
Each Hobbit hole is designed to belong to a particular Hobbit: these pictures, for example, are from the home of the beekeeper.
“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” –Tolkien, The Hobbit
Jackson wrote: “I knew Hobbiton needed to be warm, comfortable and feel lived in. By letting the weeds grow through the cracks and establishing hedges and little gardens a year before filming, we ended up with an incredibly real place, not just a film set”. Lee commented that “it was satisfying to see that it had taken on something of the look of the Devonshire countryside I’d lived in for the past twenty-five years”.
Personally, I think it looked more like heaven.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –Tolkien, The Hobbit
At the end of our tour, which took about two hours, we were treated to a cold drink at the Green Dragon. Ginger beer–perfect!
Have you treated yourself to a read of Tolkien’s book The Hobbit yet? Gosh, pick up a copy today and see what the fuss is all about. All this excitement about the Hobbiton Movie Set and the excellent Peter Jackson movies started out, after all, in the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Our tour guide asked us several times how many of us had seen the movies, and how many of us had read the books. I was dismayed–even in this setting–at how few of us had read the Tolkien books.
They are a treat.
Thanks for popping in, Gentle Reader. You can find out more information about the Hobbiton Movie Set right here, and I’ll join the chorus to encourage you to make a trip, if you can do so. It’s definitely worth the effort to go!
One last thing:
More from my site
- Paradisiacal grocery shopping, done barefoot
- Climbing Mount Maunganui: surprises at the top
Enjoying reading about your adventure so much! Your descriptions and photos are terrific! Memories of Nelson made me smile. Wonderful times there. 🙂
Ahh yes, I have such fond memories of Nelson, Kay. Idyllic childhood.
Envy!!! I have read the books and much much later when the movies came out, husband (who also is a Tolkien enthusiast) and I went to see them. sigh! I wish I could be there! 🙂
Rita, you’d love it!
ps. Thanks so much for posting about this, btw!!!
“I raise my glass of chocolate milk, (fresh from Safeway, $2.00 a gal. this week : ) to you and your Ginger Beer.” “Clink, clink.”
“Ahh it’s so GREEN there….. Say, Amy dear was that a “real” Monarch perched atop the lovely Zinnias by the mailbox?”
“Yes, I agree, slices of heaven!”
Lucy, I have seen several REAL Monarchs while here. Not many, but a few! There were far more cabbage moths, going after the kales and cabbages and other brassicas there in the Hobbit gardens, though, than legit butterflies. Remind me, dear Lucy, to tell you a funny story, by the way, about those cabbage moths. 😉
I just realized I must be a Hobbit! Hmm, this explains alot!!
Nice post, Amy! You could make a lot more money being a travel writer than a blogger, plus, someone else would pay for your lodgings and airline tickets!
Not a bad notion, Gene . . . !! But who would watch my chooks and my garden while I was away?
This is wonderful! Marvelous! Just the slice of heaven needed for this time of year in northern Ohio–or northern Anywhere! I do so wish I could live right there in bucolic Hobbiton where bare unshaven feet are the norm, all the neighbors are known, and the mead flows freely! I have many times read The Hobbit to my crew of Seven Littles, most of whom have now grown beyond the Read-2-Me stage, but the magic for us all lives potently even though we’re mostly comprised of Hobbit-like souls which would rather stay much at home rather than trust our feet to the wandering road! Thank-you *boundlessly* for sharing these adventures, Gentle Writer, and letting us live the journey alongside you, albeit remotely!
Oh my goodness, Kristine, it is I who must thank you for reading–because I simply have to write, and it’s nice that somebody will actually read what I am writing. Here’s to hopes that you’ll one day be able to visit New Zealand!
I just watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night!! This post is great and I love love love the photos. I wish I could live in a hobbit hole. Thanks for this.
O boy! you’re having the time of your life. 🙂 I would love to visit the Middle Earth. Been a great fan of the Hobbit and LOTR movies.
Go, Max, go!