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I first read The Hobbit when I was 18. I loved it. I especially loved the depth and reach of Tolkien’s world; a world he would later expand and explore in The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps you are a fan of the novels, but in my day it went far beyond fandom. Those of us truly devoted to Middle Earth learned its languages – there are enough passages with translations to make that possible – and in the tunnels at Carleton, where I attended for my pre-university year, we decorated those concrete walls with images and messages in Elvin runes that we added to daily. It was kind of like our student newspaper of another world. That’s the kind of fan I was.

I loved what Peter Jackson did in bringing Middle Earth to life in Lord of the Rings, especially Rivendell, and thought his battle scene in The Return of the King captured the cataclysmic scope as well as could be realized in film. But I must confess that as much as I was captured by Tolkein’s epic trilogy and growth in character of its protagonist Frodo and especially his faithful friend Samwise Gamgee, it is the gentler, wiser Bilbo that remains my hero and friend. I love his Christian humility and his resilient humanity. I loved the camaraderie and the innocent adventure of it all.

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New Zealand has been on my radar since Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon. When Jackson chose these islands for filming Tolkien’s work, the country rose even higher on the bucket list. Yesterday we touched down; today we went to Hobbiton. That silly grin may well take a year to wipe off my face. We started the day by driving to Matamata. Ginger, with whom I have made my piece, got us there with little to bicker about. Pam has been more than happy to surrender her navigational duties to a female voice I can’t undermine with the invariable, “Are you sure?” Ginger is always sure, even when she is (occasionally) wrong.

In Matamata we drove to the Information office and lined up to book the Hobbiton tour. I warn you that it is not cheap; $75 Kiwi bucks when we took the tour. And worth every cent! The bus takes you over dale and through fens that the most fearless driver (I am one) would quake at. At the gate we loaded into another, smaller bus to get into the farm itself. There is no point in driving there, as you cannot get into this private farm without taking the tour, and the price is the same at the gate as in town. Do, or do not, as another legendary figure would say. We did. Gosh, we are glad we did!

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The first Hobbiton, constructed for The Lord of the Rings was made of styrofoam and completely dismantled. This time, the New Zealand government was smarter, and insisted on a permanent site. Jackson and Co. complied, and the result is the most charming place you have seen. Everything – I mean the doors, benches, tools, even the trees! – have been sized down to Hobbit proportions. Bag End, where Bilbo lived, is so dear and sweet it would charm the scales off a dragon! The flowers have been chosen for their delicate size and line every flower box and garden. The views, the scope and the attention to detail are staggering. Our tour guide was pleasant and most informative: “This is the tree used in the fireworks scene using pulleys to hoist the kites used for the fiery dragon. It took thirteen hours for the four second of film you see in The Fellowship of the Ring.” We ended our two hour tour at the Green Dragon Inn.

The Inn is full size, as befits an inn for men. The beams are local wood, a cross between cypress and teak, and most impressive in size. A truck axle was used to turn the beams and a sharpened crowbar used for a chisel. Again the attention to detail – in the leaden windows and the stress marks on the beams – was most impressive.

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Like all good thing this tour had to come to an end. But we left sated and most satisfied. I have never seen the like so carefully preserved and executed. If you have a chance to see it, don’t carp at the price. If that is what it takes to preserve a piece of Middle Earth, it is well worth it!

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