So, I feel I owe you an explanation. For the last couple of months I haven't been posting much, and that's because for the last couple of months I've been travelling around the beautiful country of New Zealand "on assignment"--helping out some friends. I do this fairly regularly, and I've been to New Zealand a few times over the last years, but this was the first time I've really seen a lot of the country.
Now I've seen most of it, from Auckland to Invercargill. It was great fun, and well worth visiting! But there's one place I think my readers will be most interested to hear about...and so, before I return you to your regularly-scheduled book reviews, I am going to break all habit, and post a whole bunch of pictures.
Guess where I got to visit?
Regular readers of this blog will know that as a card-carrying Tolkien purist I have a low opinion of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies generally. I don't think they're great, and mostly I find them pretty painful. A friend once remarked that the people working on the Lord of the Rings movies could be divided into two camps--those who actually cared and understood what Tolkien was trying to achieve, and those who didn't give a hoot. The former worked conscientiously on costumes, sets, effects, props, and soundtrack. The latter worked on the script...!
I still have a lot of respect for the set designers, though, so when I discovered that our journey from Hamilton to Tauranga, in the North Island, would take us into the Matamata vicinity where Hobbiton was built and filmed, I was rather keen to visit.
The Matamata area is just lovely: green rolling farmland with the blue Kaimai hills looming in the distance. As we drove up the narrow road to the Hobbiton tourist attraction, I thought it looked very Shirelike, even without hobbit holes and hobbits to complete the illusion. Arriving at the ticketing place, though, my spirits cooled a bit. It did look touristy, complete with overpriced gift shop and (tm) sprinkled everywhere.
The movie set itself was on a sheep farm further into the hills. A steady stream of green buses will take you out to the site. As we queued outside the gift shop, people chatted, texted, and fruitlessly attempted to appease fractious offspring.
Then a bus rolled to a stop before us, and a previous tour filed out. Each of them came almost skipping down the steps, wreathed in carefree and contented smiles, and thanking their guide in hushed voices. Watching them, I took a little more heart.
After a five-minute bus ride through farmland, we finally reached Hobbiton proper and the tour was ready to begin!
Hobbiton is situated in a little green dell in the hills, and the only access was through "Gandalf's cutting", where you see Frodo and Gandalf riding on the cart in the first film. Step through this, and you get your first view of Hobbiton...
And it's gorgeous.
Each hobbit-hole has its own specific character--there's a hobbit-bee-keeper hole, a hobbit-baker hole, a hobbit-fisherman hole. Each one is carefully crafted with every kind of detail--pottery and curtains inside the windows, washing hanging from washing-lines, bunches of herbs hung up to dry, a little waistcoat flung over the handle of a pitchfork, or a picnic lunch waiting to be eaten.
The holes are built on a number of different scales, as well, from little holes like this one, meant to look hobbit-sized compared to Big People...
to 100%-scale holes like this one:
One highlight, of course, was Bag-End itself at the top of The Hill!
Alas, there were no interiors to see: the Bag End interior, with all other interiors, were filmed on a set in Wellington.
From Bag End we had good views of the surrounding countryside...
|Which looks very Shiresque, doesn't it?|
|The gap in the hedge to the left of the Tree is where Bilbo vaults the fence at the beginning of the first Hobbit.|
Here we were served a complimentary beverage--the choice is between hard cider, ginger beer, and a very fine dark stout--in adorable little pottery mugs. Nibbles and meals are also available (they're divine).
Actually, I think my favourite part of the whole thing was the Green Dragon Inn. Despite the fact that if you look closely, it's built of synthetic substances that only look astonishingly like wood and stone, it came with incredible character. I felt like I was sitting in all the inns that GK Chesterton ever wrote about.
|Except much more hobbitish, of course.|
|ALAN LEE AND JOHN HOWE, PEOPLE!|
Now, it isn't often that you walk into a place and find it simply awash in worldview. One doesn't often look around somewhere and think, "There's a very definite philosophy coming out here." One place with an unmistakeable worldview flavour to it is Port Arthur in Tasmania--a fascinating clash between old Christendom and Enlightenment philosophies. Another is the house of some friends in Tennessee, where a blockhouse for juvenile delinquents has been transformed into the cradle of a new Christendom.
Hobbiton, surprisingly enough, was another. Not much of a clash here: it was like stepping into one sheltered little valley where everything George Grant says in his Christendom lectures has come to life. This came out most powerfully in the sheer attention to artistic detail. I can give no higher praise than to say that I don't think much here would have raised Tolkien's hackles.
|This is a see-saw on the Party Ground.|
This kind of detail was everywhere you looked.
Inside the Green Dragon, there was even a Green Dragon!
And Lady Bibliophile will be chuffed to know that when hobbits sit down in the pub with a book...
...they sit down with Dickens!
By the time we headed back to our bus and returned to the waking world, I too felt deeply contented, as if my soul had had a good square meal of everything good and lovely. And from the looks of them, so did everyone else on our tour!