In celebration of Hobbit Day, I’m going to tell you two stories about one gift. One is about how that gift created a world for hobbits, and one is about how that gift represented a world for two humans.
When Peter Jackson and his team went looking for a location for Hobbiton to film The Lord of the Rings, they eventually found the perfect spot. A sheep farm, nestled near the town of Matamata, New Zealand, with scenery untouched by human technology would set the perfect stage for the town of our hero.
In setting up Bag End, home to Bilbo and Frodo, the studio needed a large oak tree for their vision, so they cut one down from nearby and numbered its pieces, moved it to the set, and painstakingly reassembled the entire tree. Then they imported hand-painted leaves from Taiwan to wire to the tree to make it look alive. All of this for a prop that would be onscreen for less than a minute, yet it was so visually powerful you can see why they would have made the effort. And why they went over budget. In the end Hobbiton looked like what most Tolkien fans had envisioned and made every scene shot there authentic and real.
Now, the other story. Last year Pandora opened a new data center in New Zealand. It was their first international site and there were many clamoring to go on that particular business trip, including my husband. He and I are both Tolkien fans, as now are our children. It’s generational, in fact. My mother-in-law gave my husband the middle name “Strider,” and I have a childhood pet named the same. Unfortunately, someone else won the bid to go, and we were heartbroken. But this particular co-worker/friend knew us, and brought back an extraordinary gift.
It seems that over time, that tree that they screwed and wired back together, began to lose its fake hand-painted leaves and with each movie they have had to add new ones. By the time they filmed The Hobbit, all the leaves were either gone or bleached, so they replaced them again. But at the commencement of filming, Peter Jackson ended up in the hospital for a long stay, and by the time he was ready to start filming again, all the leaves had bleached out. So interns were hoisted onto platforms and ladders to hand paint each leave once again. The stories this tree could tell.
But every once in a while, you can find one of those leaves on the ground beneath the majestic Bag End oak tree. And that is what our friend did. He found that little treasure, and brought it back to us as a gift. He may not have thought of it as much more than a cool souvenir and a nod to my husband’s name, but for us it was a piece of a place we have imagined, a world our family has gotten lost in a hundred times. It has a place of honor, and a respect in our house for what part it played in making one of our favorite stories come to life.
On Hobbit Day, we raise a pint to Bilbo and Frodo (both born on this day) for taking the friendship, love, and compassion they got from their community and turning it into the stuff of heroes and legend.