Middle Earth: In Which I Write About What I’ve Resisted Writing About

Okay, granted I may have let myself insert a line or two about Lord of the Rings thinly across my blogs, but I’ve tried to avoid writing about it as much as I want to. And it’s not that I just wanted to write about all the ways that being in New Zealand brought me closer to the novel or the story. It hasn’t just been good. There were pitfalls relating to seeing ways in which the movies became a simple economic advantage to the country. And sometimes though I’m happy I’ve stood where scenes were shot for the movie trilogy, and had a Milford Sound tour with an old schoolmate of Peter Jackson (they didn’t actually know each other), sometimes it killed the magic the books had. The magic of having grown up with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and escaping to make-believe worlds. It’s one of those things where sometimes you can know too much. To those that wish and pine to have gone to New Zealand for nerdy reasons, this probably sounds a little blasphemous, and sometimes it feels blasphemous, too.

The Glenorchy (Glen-ooowr-key) tour I went on outside Queenstown is a good embodiment of all the issues I mentioned. It’s hard to take credit for the scenery, and so yes, Lake Wakatipu (Waka-tip-oo, according to locals) and the Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring which we drove through were undeniably breathtaking. So it was in no way a loss of a tour. But our precious tour guide was kind of just as big of a nerd as I was. I honestly think that and his location in Queenstown is why he got into guiding tours (for a slightly inflated price than it was worth). He carried around this book that was so loved it had long fallen out of its binding. He’d pull it out each time we stopped and compare shots from the movie in the book to the sights before our eyes. Sometimes I wished he wouldn’t: I’d built up this mentality of coming back to the movies when I was back in the tundra, and finding those shots myself, like through my pictures or something…that is to say, he had the same approach to the films versus the real scenery that I did. Sometimes his insights were less than stunning. However, he displayed classic Kiwi cordiality and was a genuinely nice guy. These tours became his livelihood and it’s impossible to consider that separate from what it means for a story to have taken root in a real country.

Wellington is another story entirely. Being the location of WETA Studios and the site of all of the LotR-related movie premieres, the whole city is infused with street signs and billboards and directions to the WETA Cave. The country’s national museum, Te Papa, has a bigger LotR merchandise selection than the WETA Cave did. Is Lord of the Rings a mascot for this country, or is New Zealand a mascot for Peter Jackson’s screen adaptation of Middle Earth?