Annie Tang is an archivist in Special Collections in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University. She loves to travel, a good bowl of Vietnamese pho (pronounced ‘fuh’), discussing intersectionality, and waxing nostalgic about California weather.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” This line from J.R.R Tolkien’s first installment of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, is often-quoted to the point of cliche, but for good reason: it speaks to a restless spirit within each of us, to find adventure in a good story or in real life.
Many of us are exhilarated by fantasy in the pages of books; that exhilaration is both intensified on one hand, and tempered by another when films are adapted from our beloved tomes. This excitement is intensified because readers can finally feast their eyes on realistic interpretations of an author’s work. It is also tempered due to to their fear of disaster, the lack of faithfulness to material or inadequate translation to screen.
Fortunately, director Peter Jackson, a super fan of Tolkien’s work, delivered a beautiful, cinematically masterful canon of work in the The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy; so much so that it exponentially boosted the tourism of the movie’s setting, his home country of New Zealand. A literary and cinematic fan of the books and franchise, I wholeheartedly contributed to that boost in February 2018.
I first landed in Auckland on North Island, New Zealand’s most populous city, and the starting point for most international travelers. The city has been called the “gateway to Middle-earth” and it shows in the 15-foot Dwarven statue standing in the Arrivals terminal of the airport.
New Zealand’s tourism machine portrays the country as a sun-soaked paradise populated predominantly by Caucasian kiwis and the native people of the Maori. In reality, the island nation plays host to many other ethnicities and cultures, with the fastest growing migrant and immigrant groups from Asia, due New Zealand’s proximity to the continent. This is exemplified through the plethora of Korean restaurants in Auckland and throughout the islands, and cultural events such as Japan Day.
A couple hours southeast of Auckland by car, lies the rural farming town of Matamata, which is the sight of the permanent movie set of Hobbiton. Exactly copied from the original set in the LOTR film trilogy, it was built permanently on a sheep farm for The Hobbit trilogy and for today’s tourist attraction planned by Peter Jackson and the land’s owners, the Alexander family. Sadly, the guided tour lasts only 2 hours, though I could imagine myself spending all day exploring all 44 hobbit holes (homes), the lake, and other outlying structures.
On the South Island, a couple hours west driving from Christchurch, lies Mount Sunday, the filming location for the country of Rohan in the LOTR movies, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Mount Sunday particularly served as the summit for the capital city of Edoras, seat of the kings of Rohan. The land on which Mount Sunday sits, Hakatere Conservation Park, also acted as the rural expanse of Rohan, in battle scenes and scenes with the Riders of Rohan, the Rohirrim.
At the southwestern edge of South Island, lies one of New Zealand’s most beloved park, Fiordland National Park. The vast, natural beauty of Fiordland can be seen here and there throughout LOTR, including but not limited to Snowdon Forest as Fangorn Forest, Kepler Mire as the Dead Marshes, and Lake Manapouri as part of Rivendell. I planned the close of my trip with a tour of the majestic Milford Sound (misnamed by its early European explorers, as a sound is carved by water, but a fiord by a glaciation). As my friends and I cruised along Milford Sound, a pod of dolphins proceeded to follow us, frolicking in the water as we stared at them in awe. It was not a terrible way to end my travels.
Included are some resources on Tolkien, his works, the films, and New Zealand at the Sheridan Libraries and beyond:
There and Back Again: JRR Tolkien and the Origins of the Hobbit by Mark Atherton
J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons
The Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, edited by Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D. C. Drout, Verlyn Flieger
Symphony Number 1 : The Lord of the Rings by Johan de Meij
The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood by Kristin Thompson
Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy by Janice M. Bogstad
A History of New Zealand by Keith Sinclair, with additional material by Raewyn Dalziel
Living Together: Towards Inclusive Communities, edited by Michelle Thompson-Fawcett and Claire Freeman, a collection of essays on New Zealand communities and cultures
Maori Origins and Migrations: The Genesis of Some Pakeha Myths and Legends by M.P.K. Sorrenson.