Monday, December 17, 2012

Welly-moot 1.6 : The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey

By now I expect that most (if not all!) of us have seen the new movie - I hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did. Personally, I can't wait for the next installment, although I guess we'll have to. :)

Currently I'm sure you've all had the same problem as me - there's a bit of a transitionary period between my first viewing, and that of a lot of people I've spoken to who haven't yet seen it. I keep having to bite my tongue and not talk in too many spoilers!

The next Welly-moot is coming, and due to my work commitments, I've changed the date from the usual Sunday (30th of December) to the Saturday before (29th of December). I thought it might be nice to go into the meeting not having to worry about that, so we can all discuss the movie to our heart's contents.

The start time has also changed for this meeting - we'd like people to come at 1:00pm (instead of the usual 2:00pm).

Finally, since a number of our members are only in New Zealand for a limited time, and may have missed a "proper" Christmas get-together, we thought we would offer our home for this meeting.

NB - Not the Embassy Cinema this meeting!

As such, we would like to keep control of how many people are coming, so if you could drop me a quick line with approx numbers, that would simplify things hugely. My email address is

We would like to make it a similar event as our Second Breakfast event at the red carpet premiere, so I'm asking everyone to "bring another plate" please. That seemed to work exceedingly well, and I think everyone enjoyed that on November 28th!

What we would like people to bring though, is something home-made. Perhaps something traditional from your home-country? We will make it an International Lunch!

So, the details:

  • Where : Our home. Details via RSVP (email me)
  • When : 1:00pm, Saturday, December 29, 2012
  • What : International Lunch, bring-a-plate (home made/cooked/baked please!)

So, email me, and I'll give you the address to come to!

  - Jack

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey

Bragging rights: it's now the evening of the day of the release of the first Hobbit movie, and I've seen the movie twice already. I cheated - I somehow managed to get red-carpet tickets last week and watched it in 24fps already. Last night though (or more accurately, early early this morning at 12:01am), I watched The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey in (almost) all it's glory - 3D, 48fps, and ATMOS sound system, at the theatre where it opened last week, the Embassy Cinema in Wellington (the only technical format missing was IMAX, which isn't available in Wellington).

Before I start my review though, I should point out a few biases of mine - a full disclosure, if you like. On the Tolkien front, I read the Hobbit when I was a teenager. Personally, I don't mind a few changes from one medium to another. The LOTR movies deviated from the books in significant ways, and I, for one, am glad of them. I actually hope The Hobbit movie will be different from the books as well, in more than a few places.

To film a book exactly like a movie will always be impossible, and so film makers are faced with either making a movie closer to the book (and upset movie fans), or making a better movie (and upsetting book fans). Given the choice, I'd far rather see a better movie than a faithful movie. I don't particularly have any problem reading a book after seeing a movie, and seeing where the movie came from.

Now, I say that as one of the founding members of this New Zealand Tolkien fellowship. Some changes are warranted. That doesn't mean that I think the professor was wrong, just that he wasn't a script writer.

Next admission - I hate 3D movies. If you've been paying attention to my NZ Noldor blog over the years, this shouldn't come as a shock. I have yet to see a 3D movie where the 3D aspects of it weren't just designed to try and impress me. I'm totally fed up with the old "throw stuff at the camera, that will be cool" school of 3D movies. In the opening scenes from Avatar 3D, it was very quickly obvious that the setting of the movie was designed to show off the awesome effects, and James Cameron lost me as a fan the moment that 3D blob of water was floating in mid-space. It was a cool effect, sure, but how was that part of any story?

On a related note, I walked out of Avatar with the biggest headache I've had in the last 10 years. I don't think that's an overstatement, either. It wasn't particularly entertaining, and I haven't watched Avatar again since the first time (on yet another unrelated note, I have since watched Fern Gully again).

Ok, that all said, let me start by stating that I LOVED this movie. I used to judge how good a movie was by what was in it - I don't do that anymore. I prefer to judge it by how it makes me feel. The Hobbit had me sitting there mesmerised by the beauty of the landscapes, even as the film's story danced around the one in the book. Tolkien's Hobbit book was never more than a children's story, and as such skimmed over or even skipped entire events that must reasonably have happened. The book works as a children's book, precisely because of that. Some of the book's sections are silly and whimsical and fun, and would have made the movie unbelievable.

In the first chapter of the book, we are told that the thirteen dwarves show up to Bilbo's door. This troupe of dwarves have apparently lost all their belongings, and are now wandering around Middle-earth in search of a good burglar. Their temporary home is far away, and their quest will bring them across many miles of wildlands, woodlands, rivers, and mountains. Are we seriously expected to believe that they would bring an orchestra's worth of musical intruments to this great trek? Two fiddles, three flutes, a drum, two clarinets, two viols "as big as [Dwalin and Balin] themselves", while Thorin himself apparently goes to war carrying a golden harp. The Misty Mountains song in the book isn't set to specific music, but what Howard Shore has done with it, had the hairs in my neck stand on end. No instruments were used in the movie but it worked much better.

Other things were also removed - the talking purse belonging to one of the trolls for instance. I had hopes that their names would also be changed from the uber-english Bert, William and Tom, but Peter Jackson has made it work, by giving them uber-english villain characters, even more so than Tolkien himself did. It may be cliched but it works. The problem of three big, noisy, bumbling trolls somehow sneaking up on 13 cautious and suspicious dwarves has been resolved by taking the problem seriously, something Tolkien didn't have to do in the child's book.

Throughout the movie, there are extra incidents and other seemingly superfluous additions to the book's plot, all designed to bring the Hobbit movie into line with LOTR. I think it will give the final series, once completed, a more coherent feel, which is totally lacking in the reading of LOTR after reading The Hobbit.

I won't go into the plot details too much, to avoid too many possible spoilers, but overall I have to say I was thoroughly entertained by the story, and also by how much extra story I was being told. A lot of this story is straight from Tolkien's other works, with some embellishments and dramatisations.

I predict that Peter Jackson's Hobbit will work precisely because of this. His inventions are relatively minor, but he manages to do what Tolkien never finished - to create a version of the Bilbo's story aimed squarely at an older audience.

I briefly wanted to mention the new technologies behind the story. I mentioned my dislike of 3D as a story-telling tool. So far I've not seen any movie that has used it as a secondary device after "plot". There have been many other 3D movies, and although I've not seen most of them, none appear to have resisted the urge to simply throw stuff at the audience. Peter Jackson tells us a good story first and foremost, and uses 3D as one of many different tools. The 3D I saw last night was subtle in some places and understated impressive in others. The 3D rain was a thing of beauty - it made all other movie rain seem fake. The rain was all around the characters, and it felt more real than anything I've seen before.

One other nice 3D device was the subtitles - when more than one character was speaking in non-english, the subtitles were brought back further depending on who had been speaking. This worked so intuitively that nobody I spoke to had even noticed it.

The other new thing of course, is the higher frame rate of 48 frames per second. To achieve this, the Embassy has had new projectors installed a few weeks ago, capable of brighter projections, and at higher framerates. Obviously a huge screen like the one at the Embassy needs a fair amount of energy to get the best results, and last night the movie was hair-sharp, and incredibly easy on my eyes at least.

One previous issue I had about 3D movies is the level of darkness. Essentially, you're sitting in a dark room with sunglasses on. This can cause eye-strain, which in my case has lead to massive headaches. However, with the new brighter projection at twice the framerates, coupled with what seemed to me to be lighter shaded glasses, this appears to have been solved. I watched the movie last night at 48fps, and I felt I could easily have watched it again straight away, with no ill effects.

The common complaint I keep reading online about the 48fps is that it looks "too real". I can't quite understand this - how can this possibly be a bad thing? Yes, it looked "realer" than anything I've ever seen on a big screen, and I loved it! Surely that's the point of going to the cinema? If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that 48fps is here to stay. We will all get used to it, and in ten years time we won't be worrying about frame rates, motion blurs, and other problems long-since solved and forgotten.

Having seen the Hobbit in both 24fps and 48fps formats, I can confirm that the higher fps was far easier on the eye, especially in the panning landscape scenes, and the fast chase sequences. During the Goblin Mines sequence it was far easier to get a sense of what was happening, and I had a better chance to look around the huge caverns and see more detail. As Peter Jackson is so fond of reassuring us, 48fps is a more submersive technology - it really takes you down there as an active participant, something which I did not expect to happen but did.

If I have any complains, it's this - The Hobbit wasn't long enough. The movie seemed all-action, all-of-the-time. There was little time to relax. The LOTR's plot took us to Rivendell and we relaxed when Frodo slept, and slowly the Council scene got us back into recovery mode. There was no such reprieve during The Hobbit - the conflict merely chances from Dwarf vs Orc, to Dwarf vs Elf, and then to Dwarf vs Goblins, and back to Dwarf vs Orcs again. I'm really hoping the extended editions (as promised by Peter Jackson during this year's San Diego's ComicCon) will address this. As a long time "marathoner", I would like to be able to watch The Hobbit as a whole story in a single day as well. The way it stands, it might be too much of a good thing if all three parts move as fast as this one. There's plenty of time for pausing every so often - but I guess there's so much story to tell we can't afford that luxury in this Cinema Edition. Bring on the 4 hour versions, I say! :)

All in all this movie is a very worthy addition to the Middle-earth saga. The dream-team was brought back together - the same scriptwriters, director, special effects houses, and the same actors as much as possible. The results are obvious, and impressive.

I think The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey will stand the test of time, like LOTR has done. I can't wait for the blu-Ray box set, I guess around Christmas 2014 or so.

In the meantime, I think I'll go see it again at the cinema, in 48fps again. For the third time in two weeks.

  - Jack Machiela

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Second Breakfast on Nov 28 (Red Carpet Day!)

One week to go, and the new Hobbit movie will have its premiere! To say we're mildly excited about this would be a bit of an understatement!

Welly-moot has decided to celebrate the day with a very good hobbit habit - Second Breakfast!

So, on the day of the Premiere (Wednesday, November 28th), if you're a member of Welly-moot - now or in the past - or if you just want to meet up with fellow Hobbit-fans on The Biggest Hobbit Day Ever, then come and join us here in Wellington!

In keeping with our usual meetings, the Second Breakfast will be a totally chaotic affair - we start at roughly 10:00am, and finish when all the food is gone. The picnic will be held underneath the Tripod at the Embassy Theatre end of Courtenay Place.

Remember to bring your own food and drink - Welly-moot doesn't have any budget (or even a bank account), so we rely on everyone to pull their own weight.

We're expecting a few other people to come and join us - travellers from other lands - so let's make them feel welcome! (Travellers from other lands intending to join us - "bring a plate" applies to everyone!)

Oh, and costumes are encouraged, of course!

Click on the banner above to make it bigger, and feel free to pass it along to other interested people. The more the merrier!

One final thing - TVNZ will be there on the day with cameras, so let's make it count. See you all there!

  - Jack

PS - there will be an announcement about the First Public Screening tickets soon, so please be patient!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Again - PWT was NOT to blame - more info

Just to take the blame off PWT - the Hobbit movie was originally supposed to be released on the 13th, uptil about 2 or three weeks ago, when the studio decided that NZ should get it one day earlier.

That means PWT had bought the tickets when it wasn’t open to the public (8 weeks ago), and it would indeed have been filled as a special private “preview” session. So that’s in all likelihood why they got permission to buy all the tickets to the midnight session, and most likely because they had to commit to actually giving the tickets away in competitions all over the world. For instance, the Fabric Softener competition (that was advertised on Wellington buses a few weeks ago) mentioned the date of the “preview” as the 12th, and not as the 13th.

So I don't think that PWT is to blame. They had a deal, and the deal was changed on them halfway through.

And as for PWT spending a meager $14000 on giveaway tickets to Hobbit fans all around the world? Come on, that's really not that much considering the usual council spending.

And there's a good payback for that. $14000 divided by 600 people coming into town, is less than $25 to get people to come into Wellington. Do you think they'll spend more than $25 each while in Wellington, on food, hotels, transport, other entertainment, etc? I'd consider that money incredibly well spent.

  - Jack

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We have tickets (but it was a difficult road)!

It's been an interesting 24 hours.

This time yesterday we were getting ready to go to the Embassy Theatre to wait in line for the Hobbit Premiere tickets for the 12:01am 12/12/12 session. It seems Fate had different ideas.

We were pretty stoked - the brand new Welly-moot banner had been delivered early that day, and also the Welly-moot T-shirts had come in, and so we handed them out to those members who had made it to the Line-party.


It was also nice to meet up with some other familiar faces - Barry from Stansborough Clothing was there, and a few people I have hosted on a LOTR tour - Erin & Erica for instance.

We had originally agreed to meet at 11:30pm, but apparently the first people were already queueing by 5:30pm or so. Alex and I came in about 9:00 or so, and by 11:00 most people had arrived.

There were a lot of very excited people there. I guess all up there would have been around 50-60 people or so. One estimate had it at 200 but I actually took a rough count at one stage, just before midnight. Still a good turnout, I though - especially considering that the Embassy staff had only just announced one day before that the line-party was "on". We had less than 48 hours to announce and prepare. Quite a number of people were wearing cloaks of various descriptions, and a few people were in full Middle-earth costumes. Around 11:30pm, the atmosphere was buzzing.

That all started to change, around 11:45pm. Two guys behind us in line had been online and on the Embassy's website, hitting the "refresh" button to see if tickets were on sale yet. About 11:45pm, one of them noticed that tickets were available to some of the sessions. Odd, we thought - tickets weren't supposed to be on sale until midnight. But, you know, the main Auditorium seats 800 people, so plenty of time.

By 11:52pm, the call went up from the laptop guys that the tickets had sold out.

We still weren't called up to the ticket lines though. Around 11:58pm ((gotta love Facebook and the digital age - all this stuff is so accurate now)), we went to the line. Alex and I were the 4th group in line, and we were asked "which session would you like?". Um, the first one? Obviously? Isn't that why we came? No, they weren't available anymore.

That's roughly where the party ended.

We ended up having to settle for midnight tickets but in the (much) smaller auditorium, which does not have 48fps or the new Atmos sound system currently being installed in the building's main screening room. The prices were the same though. I bought six tickets, also some for a few absent Welly-moot members. The people behind us were told that session had also been sold out now. Some people bought tickets for other sessions, at later times or even dates. In other words, we weren't going to see it together as a group, or as the first country in the world.

There was a newspaper reporter there, interviewing a few people about how they felt, and what we thought may have gone wrong. I answered a few questions fairly bluntly, I think. On the way out we were photographed on his iPhone camera since the DomPost didn't think it would be a big event so hadn't sent a photographer along. Still, at least they showed up, unlike TVNZ or TV3, who I'd also called ahead of time.

Credit: Michael Forbes, Dominion Post

I thought the picture captured our mood pretty perfectly.

So what went wrong?

I've been on the phone most of the day today. I've lost track of the number of radio interviews I gave today. Radio NZ, RadioLive, Newstalk ZB. Other reporters as well. The Dominion Post suddenly decided they did need a better photo after all. One of the first messages this morning though, was a text message from Sir Peter Jackson's spokesperson, Matt Draviztki, to get in contact with him as soon as possible.

Apparently Sir Peter Jackson had heard about the fiasco, and wanted to get involved. Matt extended an astounding offer to the group - if I could get the whole queue back together, Sir Peter would ensure that we would see the movie in its full 48fps glory, come hell or highwater. I spent the better part of the morning trying to get in contact with 60 people who's names I did not take down last night. Luckily everyone seemed to be on Facebook, and there were a lot of photos taken.

NB - if you were there last night, and I haven't yet contacted you - please drop me an email on "", giving me your name, your email, and your approximate place in the queue, and a photo of yourself there if possible.

I also got a call from Sarah Meikle, who works for our city council-sponsored organisation, Positively Wellington Tourism (PWT). She told me what had happened. Apparently, about eight weeks ago the PWT had booked the entire first "public" session. They had asked for permission to do so, and had received it (so, the fault of this is NOT with PWT, or the Wellington Council).

The reason they booked the session was so they could arrange for a huge party, and they intended to give away tickets via competitions etc.

And so, it was decided to donate 120 seats to the Hobbit Line Queuers, and to the Welly-mooters.

So a MASSIVE "Thank You" goes out to Sir Peter and Matt Dravitzki for their initial offer of assistance, and to the PWT's Sarah Meikle for clearing up a mess that they did NOT create, and had no real reason to clean up.

Who's fault was it then? The Embassy Theatre? Not entirely, no. Certainly not the staff in the Wellington building. I've visited them this afternoon to disperse any "bad blood" and find out what went wrong. From what I can figure out, the staff in Wellington were expressly forbidden to talk about Hobbit screening times and sessions. They all knew, apparently, but were prevented by the Embassy's owners (Event Cinemas Ltd) from telling us about it. It's pretty messed up. It must have been pretty depressing for them to watch us for hours, knowing the party wouldn't last. Perhaps that's why they didn't approach us doing our stay? Nobody wants an angry horde of Hobbits on their back.

Elly, the manager from the Embassy and myself have sat down and talked briefly this afternoon. She knew nothing about this debacle until this morning, when all hell broke loose. I think she was telling the truth - certainly she looked pretty distressed while talking to me, and apologised for the whole situation many times.

So of the management of Event Cinemas I would ask this - please remember who pays your wages. It's the people who buy the tickets. And The Hobbit will be the three biggest movies in the next three years. Just sayin'. All we're asking for is some respect.

From here we move forward again. I'm waiting for the final arrangements from the PWT to come through, and I still need a number of names, and email address. So if you were there last night, again, please do tell me where you were sitting - I have a pretty good idea of how many people were there. Send me emails to "", with photos if possible. Once my team of experts is ready, we'll try to hand out the tickets as fairly as possible. This does mean we won't be able to cater for large numbers of extra tickets though, so expect one or two tickets per person, and I reserve the right to the final say over it.

If you know other people who were there, get them to mail me also if they haven't already.

One more thing - if you've already bought tickets, and don't need them anymore because of this - the Embassy has said they will happily refund tickets bought last night.

More information about the event will be posted here as it comes to hand. Stay tuned!

Some relevant articles on stuff today:

Hobbit fans disappointed at ticket debacle

Sir Peter saves Hobbit fans' day

And especially:
Hobbit fans pipped by tourism booking

[UPDATED 8/11/2012] And the next day, also on page 3 in the DomPost:

Hobbit tickets secretly sold months ago

Monday, November 5, 2012

YES! Embassy Theatre Box Office has agreed to open at Midnight!

Breaking news! The wait is over!!

We've just heard that the Embassy Theatre has agreed to open up their Box Office for ticket sales, tomorrow midnight - at 12:01am, EARLY Wednesday morning.

So let's make it worth their while; if you are able, turn up to the Embassy around 11:30pm on the evening of Tuesday the 6th of November, ready to purchase your HOBBIT Tickets for December 12th!

This information was posted on their Facebook page:

**Due to a lot of expressed interest we will be opening our onsite Box Office sales at midnight on the 7th Nov (Tues night/Wed morn). The Box Office will be open for a limited time on this night and we will re-open at 9am on Wed morning**

Online tickets will be available from midnight on Wednesday (Tues night/Wed morn).

Phone sales will be available from 9am on Wednesday morning.

Information about screening times will be avaliable on Wednesday at midnight.

384 7657 or or 10 Kent Terrace

Some Ticket pricing information was given as well:

Main auditorium 3D is $18.50 (adult) $14.50 (child/senior) $17 (student) - doesn't include glasses, which are $1 each pair (brand new-you get to keep them or you can bring your own Real D pair)

Alex and I will be there with our brand new Welly-moot banner, and hopefully we'll have the finished Welly-moot T-shirts as well, so we should be easy to spot!

Perhaps we should draw a few Dwarves on it, or a Dragon maybe?

It's all coming together nicely! Spread the word, and see you at the Embassy tomorrow night! Come in costume if you can/want!

And I would like to extend a BIG "thank you" to Elly from the Embassy for making it happen!

Friday, November 2, 2012

First trial T-shirt has arrived for proofing.

After spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to get T-shirts arranged, I've finally managed to get the first shirt here. I picked up the proof-sample today, and it looks great!

This man is more handsome because of the T-shirt

The "Welly-moot" logo is in a lovely gold colour, and the whole deal looks very good. I'm very happy with the end result. I've given the go-ahead on the rest of the order, and hopefully the rest will be here by the middle of next week.

For the one or two amongst you who have arranged an alternative method of delivery, that will be starting shortly - for everyone else, I will certainly have the T-shirts with me on Red Carpet Day (Nov 28), at the extra-ordinary Welly-moot picnic, under the Tripod across the road from the Embassy Theatre.

If you want to get the shirt earlier than that, please get in touch! I'm sure we can work something out!

  - Jack

Monday, October 29, 2012

Welly-moot 1.5: Trolls

Last Sunday we had the fifth Welly-moot meeting of this year. We started with a welcome from Jack, who also shared updates on projects, general news, and introduced three Riventrolls.

Kim Beaton with an earlier project on the left - the three "mini-trolls" on the right.

The Troll project Jack and Alex are working on has been progressing nicely. Jack brought with him three original trolls maquettes made by the our sculptor Kim, and designed by her husband Warren. Jack will set up the website for this project to start fundraising as soon as possible. We will update any progress as it happens. ((Jack: Don't expect too much before the premiere!))

The group discusses Trolls

The most exciting topic is of course the Hobbit premiere. It is less than a month now! The plan is that on the morning of Premiere Day (November 28), Welly-mooters will make their way towards the the Weta Tripod (across the road from the Embassy Theatre ) for a picnic. We will have banners, and members will wear "Welly-moot" T-shirts, so people can find us. We are looking forward to meeting a lot of people from all over the world! There will be a full agenda posted here as soon as it's finalised, but that's the gist of it. If anyone has a cool flag, please bring it, and send me a photo so I can post it here for people to recognise on the day. I'll be bringing a Rohan flag, hopefully.

Related with the premiere, are some other events. One exciting party is the Hobbit Costume Party by Red Carpet Tours on 26 November Monday at Amora Hotel ($125 / person). And there are some other parties in the town on the same week of the premiere. The Youth Hostel (YHA) will be hosting a party as well, and I'm trying to find out if they will accept non-YHA guests at that event. More details as they come to hand!

The first 'Hobbit' movie will start showing from 13 December and the tickets will start selling on 7 November at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington and internet. Of course we want to have midnight-session tickets if there are any, however there will be distinct possibility that the tickets for 13 December will be sold out via the internet before the office opens at 9.00am on 7 November. We'd like "real" paper tickets, of course! For the Hobbit collections later!

So, Jack has spoken to Elly, the manager of the Embassy Theatre to please open the Box Office at midnight as well and if they receive enough requests to sell the tickets at midnight on 7 November, they will open the office at midnight. We're VERY happy to be there at midnight (12:01am, Nov 7th)

Elly has made her email address available, so please send your request to the Embassy Theatre as soon as possible!

Our new members, Ash and Cinnamon are big fans of the 'Lord of the Rings' and enjoyed talking about Tolkien's world and hearing related news. Originally they met Jack through one of his tours, and are living locally.

Ash, Cinnamon, Charlene, Hanne, Iain, and Jack

Hanne from Norway visiting NZ mentioned that in Norway they have sold the tickets of 'Hobbit' already, although they have been told off by the studio, and have ceased for now! One theatre has 15 screens to show 'The Hobbit' on 13 December. Amazing!

Ayako and Maki joined our meeting from Palmerston North. They have the passion for 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Hobbit', and drove a four hour trip to join us again. It was great to catch up with them.

Jack, Ayako, and Maki examine the Trolls

Special visitor, Ken, stopped by and say hello and join our meeting. Ken was an extra on The Hobbit, and it was great to meet him.

The regular member; Martin, Iain, Charlene, and Miranda discussed news and topics. Jack and Martyn debated the merits and demerits of Peter Jackson making the Trolls speak, as per the book (the outcome of that particular debate is as yet undecided).

Kris and Kumi bought offered apologies - Kris was still on holiday, while Kumi is busy studying for her final exams.

It was another fun meeting for the members and visitors. The premiere is getting closer and is becoming a focal point for the meetings at the moment. This most exciting event this year will start soon!

So to recap - there will be a Welly-moot picnic on Premiere Day (November 28), at 10:00am, underneath the Tripod (or closeby, depending on the crowds). More details will be announced soon, including pictures of banners and flags to look for on the day, so you can find us. Everyone (including non-wellymooters!) will be welcome - bring a plate though!

- Report by Alex, posted by Jack

Line Party possible in Wellington, NZ, but we need fans to email them quickly!

(Reblogged from

Line Party possible in Wellington, NZ, but we need fans to email them quickly!:

It looks like Wellington MAY have a line party. We held Welly-moot (the meeting of Wellington's Tolkien enthusiasts) at the Embassy Theatre yesterday. I spoke to the Elly, the manager there, and asked her when Hobbit tickets to the December 13th opening would be available. She said at 12:01am Nov 7th (online), and 09:00am next morning (physical box office).

Then I asked her if she would consider opening the physical box office at midnight as well, and she said she'd consider it IF she got enough demand for it.

So: please, if you know anyone in Wellington who wants to stand in line for the world's FIRST official tickets (keep in mind our midnight happens an hour before anyone else's midnight!!), get them to send an email to Elly, the manager of Wellington's Embassy Theatre, at with a subject of "Please open the Box Office at 12:01am, Nov 7th for Hobbit Tickets!".

If it opens, I plan to be there on the night - let's see how many others we can get to join us!

Elly is a very nice person, and TOTALLY enthusiastic about The Hobbit, so please be nice to her when you email her!

We need the fans to show how important this is, so please DO email her! 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Headsup - Welly-moot next week Sunday 28th! Get ready!

And we have a theme - Trolls!

I will have an announcement to make at the meeting about my favourite project. Feast your eyes on this (mini-) guy...

I will explain all about him at the meeting. In the meantime, here's some reading homework before the meeting.

Also, if you have ordered a T-shirt but haven't paid for it yet, please do so online, or at latest on the day. I'm paying for them out of my own pocket at this stage and this is preventing me from buying cool Hobbit stuff.

And if you HAVEN'T yet ordered a T-shirt, it's a little late but I have ordered a VERY small numbers of spares. Be quick and you may get lucky (but no promises).

Unfortunately, the small number of orders meant I couldn't keep the cost under $20 and the price has gone up to $25. It's still not a lot to pay for a cool shirt, of course!

The meeting will start at the usual time and place - upstairs at the Embassy Cinema at 2:00pm.

See you there!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Welly-moot T-shirts for Nov 28, Hobbit Premiere Day

The Hobbit Premiere is getting closer and closer! This morning, the Wellington City Council made the official announcements for the big day, they can be found here on their website.

The Welly-moot will be there on the day - in what form is still being discussed.

To prepare for the day, we are printing a special Welly-moot T-shirt. The T-shirt is intended for Welly-moot members only - this way I can keep the costs down as I will only pay the shipping once. I do need to know how many shirts I should order though, so please do send me an email with details.

The T-shirt will cost approximately nz$20, and they will look roughly like this:

"Welly-moot, NZ's Tolkien Fellowship; 2012 - The Year Of The Hobbit"
Please order quickly - we would like to have them printed before the next Welly-moot, on October 28th.

Send me an email me with the following details:
  • Your name,
  • Number of shirts
  • Size(s) of shirts; S, M, L, XL, XXL
As soon as I have an accurate idea, I will contact you with my bank details, and I will put the order in. I can't afford to buy shirts with promise-notes, so I will not order T-shirts for which I've not received funds yet.

Today is Monday the 8th; get your orders in by the end of next weekend (so, by Sunday Oct 14th). I will be in touch soon afterwards with more details.

NB - if we can get orders for 25 shirts or more, the costs will go down.

  - Jack

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Welly-moot 1.4, the Middle-earth quiz

Wellington's official Tolkien lovers group met last week Sunday, and it was the day of the Middle-earth Quiz, something we've all been looking forward to!

Before we could begin, we had some business to discuss though.

First point of business was Kris' update on our involvement in the Hobbit Red Carpet Release day. Kris is working hard on getting us a grandstand on the Red Carpet route on November the 28th, and all is going well - we are currently awaiting news from the council about this. So the message is - if you want to have a pretty awesome view on the Grand Day, now is the time to join the Welly-moot!

On a related note, Welly-moot T-Shirts are coming, so watch this space. I'll be working on the final designs for them in the near future, and they'll be available online as soon as possible. The decision was made today that rather than making profit on the shirts, we would sell them at cost, so everybody will have a chance to get one as soon as possible, to wear on the big day. Even if the Grandstand doesn't come off (but it will!), we will still look like a "proper" group!

Kris is also making a big banner/placard to use on the day - the final look and exact wording is yet to be decided but it'll be sure to draw the attention of all the stars as they make their way into the first showing of the first Hobbit movie. :)

Earlier this week, I posted a Call for Volunteers for various Welly-moot projects. We've had a good response from it, and indeed one of the volunteers made it to today's moot, so that was great to see!

The first project - upgrading the "Hobbit Hideaway" paths on Mt Victoria, is well on track - it looks like permission has been given by the Wellington Council for us to volunteer our time, so now we have to decide the practicalities of it all. Welly-mooter Wayne has offered his help since he works as a landscape gardener (when he's not winning Tolkien quiz shows). So I'll be getting more details and we'll have more to report on by next meeting - perhaps even a finished result!

The second project - renaming a New Zealand feature to honour the memory of Professor Tolkien - was also in need of a Champion, or in this case a trio of Champions. Since Martyn has some experience in this (he was involved in the naming of the current Moa Point on Wellington's south coast), he has offered some of his time to look into the matter. I've handed over what I had at this stage, and I will put Martyn in contact with someone else keen on this, who started this whole process - my friend Aaron from Manapouri in the South Island. Aaron has recently renamed various features in the Kepler mountain range for some New Zealand astronomers, so together with Martyn, they should be the right people for this job.

Fiordland Mountains with some unshaven guy

The third project - the Rivendell upgrade - is going forward with great strides. The Greater Wellington Regional Council has been working very hard this week, and Rivendell in the Kaitoke Regional Park has a new path, which should hopefully keep everyone's shoes a bit dryer when it rains.

The Park Rangers have also improved the space around the "Legolas" tree, where Orlando Bloom had one of his most famous publicity photos taken. So many people had used the tree's roots to stand on for their own version of the photo, that the tree had started to signs of distress, and so, a few years ago, the rangers had built a small wooden platform to pose on. This platform however interfered with the "naturalness" of the photos. In the most recent upgrade, the platform has been removed, and a small path has been built to reach around to the same spot, without interfering with the tree's root system, and without being obvious in any photos. I'll post some photos and some examples as soon as I have them.

Also part of this project is a trio of beautiful hand carved wooden "Elvish" informational bollards to guide visitors through the ex-movie set. In the upcoming weeks I will endeavour to get full information and updates about this. Suffice to say that the bollards have already been carved, the locations are set, and we're currently working on the information - in English and Sindarin.

The most exciting project of all though, looks like it's starting to kick off properly as well. We're seriously working towards getting a sculpture in the Rivendell area. Or rather, just outside, to greet Rivendell visitors. More on that later... MUCH more!

Eventually though, the business part of the Welly-moot was at an end, and the Trivia quiz could begin! The source material used was "The LOTR Trivia Game", which deals with questions from the books, and "LOTR Trivial Pursuit", which has questions from the movies.

I had some 50-70 questions ready, but in the end we only had time for about 15-20 or so. Too much time was spent arguing over the finer details or suggesting preposterous answers instead - in other words, having a good time and enjoying ourselves!

", how many members are in the fellowship, no wait... too easy, let me choose another!..."

The final results were large incoherent, although we agreed that Kris answered the most questions correctly, with Martyn in second, and Wayne in third place.

Wayne won third prize

Everyone walked away with prizes though - Kris chose a complete set of five rare original Te Papa Museum collectible LOTR postcards, while Martyn both took home one of the gorgeous New Zealand/Middle-earth maps originally made for NZ Film. The maps were drawn by Daniel Reeve, who of course created pretty much EVERY map for Peter Jackson. Ever. The maps were donated by Wellington Rover Tours (so a big thank you to my boss Scott Courtney!)

Ruben looked very happy with his beautiful Hobbit map, drawn by Daniel Govar, and donated by Middle-earth News Network (thank you very much, Mark Ostley!).

Ruben was second from the bottom! Lucky we had plenty of prizes!

We are looking forward to the next meeting, which may be sooner than you think - September 22nd is of course the birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, so we are working on organising a special party somewhere in the Outer Shire on the day (ie, Mount Victoria). Expect an announcement in the next few days!

  - Jack

Monday, August 20, 2012

Volunteers needed for upcoming "special" projects

We are coming closer to the release of Sir Peter Jackson's first Hobbit movie! The Welly-moot is very excited about this, and especially the announcement that it's now officially a trilogy!

To coincide with the first release on November the 28th, the Welly-moot has a few Tolkien related projects coming up that we could use extra pairs of hands with. If you are keen to have your name permanently added to the annals of history, and aren't afraid of getting stuck in, drop me a line!

Some of the projects are:
  • A Rivendell sculpture - we're working on a gorgeous statue in the middle of one of Upper Hutt's parks, and we need help with some aspects of it, including the fundraising but also (eventually) with the actual sculpting of it. You won't need an artistic bent; we already have an artist in mind, but more on that later. She will happily train anyone willing to lend a hand.
  • We are also in the process of renaming a (currently unnamed) New Zealand geologic feature after Professor Tolkien, and we need a champion to crack the whip behind that. Again, all the difficult work is done (we have the location, and know the contact details of the Geographical Board who can initiate the process), we just need someone to manage to project from our end. This one is mostly just filling out the right forms, crossing the t's and dotting the i's. 
  • Upgrading the paths on Mount Victoria. Does anyone have contacts with the Wellington Council so we can safeguard the trees that the Hobbits hid beneath in the Fellowship Of The Ring (aka, the "Shortcut to Mushrooms")? The current wet season has made a total mess of the path and it could definitely use a bit of work. Also, I'd love to discuss a change of the current mountain bike trail away from the tree roots, and perhaps moved by 20 meters or so. Again, I have all the contact details for most of these people, I just don't seem to find enough time to start this as a project.

There are more projects as well - we could really do with lots of extra hands!

Please email me if you have spare time and would like to make a difference to Tolkien fans around the Wellington region for a LONG time to come!

  - Jack

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Headsup: Wellymoot Trivia Contest, August 26th! Free Entry - All welcome!

So, you think you know your Middle-earth? Keen to be tested?

As previously announced, the next Wellymoot meeting will be held on August the 26th, upstairs at the Embassy Theatre, starting at 2:00pm as usual. Instead of a topic for discussion, this month we will be holding a trivia contest, although I would envisage that the contest will quickly escalate into a heated debate.

I will bring a lot of questions from various sources; The LOTR Trivia Game, which deals with questions from the books; LOTR Trivial Pursuit, which deals with the movies; and my little book "So You Think You Know The Lord Of The Rings?" (by Clive Gifford), which deals with the movies again. I might also sneak a few questions from "The Unofficial Narnia Quizbook" in there, so be warned! If anyone else has trivia material, please bring it, or alternatively, self-made questions are even better!

Trivia: The game box has a cover designed by John Howe!

There will be some prizes, hopefully enough for everyone who takes part. I will donate some LOTR map posters of various descriptions, and if anyone has "spare" LOTR items they no longer want but think they might be suitable as a prize, then PLEASE, bring them in! They will be gladly accepted! And if anyone reading this is unable to come to the meeting, and would like to donate to the cause, please drop me a line, I'll be happy to collect from any Wellington address.

The meeting, as usual, will be free entry, and open to all. The questions will range from very hard to really easy, so everyone will have fun!

Full details here.

See you there!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Welly-moot 1.3 (July 1, 2012)

The third official Welly-moot of 2012 went very well last week. Kris had organised the meeting this time, as I had just returned with Alex from our trip to the Netherlands, and we were still thoroughly jetlagged. The moot-theme was "Weather", the requirement was "Bring your imagination", and Kris kept us on track.

(anti-clockwise from the left) : Wayne, Martyn, Kris, Jack, Todd, Charlene, and Mervi

After a relaxed start, catching up with each other and introducing new member Ruben to the group, we first got updated on the latest Wellywood rumours. Then, Kris got us started on the topic. Luckily we'd had quite a bit of interesting weather lately, so it all seemed quite relevant!

Discussing the weather are Charlene, Todd the Oliphaunt Rider, Jack, and new member Ruben

How do hobbits get through a cold winter? What would they eat? Would they have access to all modern cooking methods, or is it mainly stew, with a brace of conies added every so often?

There seemed to be an awful lot of corn being grown in the Peter Jackson's Shire - was it for hobbit consumption, or was it intended as pig-swill?

One of the conclusions we came to was that Hobbits would spend most winter days in the great halls, singing and dancing, and eating and drinking (and smoking!), so probably not much different to any other day, except indoors. Hobbits live the good life, it seems.

Kris, Martyn, and Wayne the Rohan, all deep in the discussion

Peter Jackson's movies appear to use the weather to convey various moods. It's often raining in the movie when the main characters are losing hope (think: Bree, Helm's Deep), and when hope returns, so does the good weather. Gandalf appears at the breaking of dawn at Helm's Deep - and Strider is revealed to be a good guy just as the rain stops in Bree. I don't believe this is a coincidence, and there are no doubt other examples of that in the movie.

It was a very friendly and happy meeting. A big thanks to Kris for setting the topic (and keeping us to it), and thanks to everyone for attending!

And to those who couldn't make it - the next meeting will be on Sunday August 26! We will have trivia quiz about anything related with Tolkien and his world.  Looking forward to seeing you!

  - Jack & Alex

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Winter's Tale of Tolkien - July 1, 2012

As the northerlies sweep down over the hills and the southerlies chill us to the bone,  cradle a mug and let your mind wander over Middle-earth. Imagine a small group of rangers - or a lone one - out in the snow-covered wilds, tracking orcs or watching over the Shire; sit yourself down in the Hall of Fire at Rivendell and listen to songs and stories; join Thror, King under the Mountain, for a feast such as only the dwarves can prepare;  carouse with the goblins, or lurk with Gollum, in smoking, stinking caves somewhere hidden and dark; celebrate Mid-winter and the return of the light in the halls of Men; enjoy your well-stocked larder, barrels of ale, and a pipe by the fire in your hobbit hole.

How would a winter's day be spent in Tolkien's worlds? We shall spin some tales of our own at our next moot. Bring your imagination and coin for coffee and cake to the cafe upstairs in the Embassy Cinema at the end of Courtney Place, Sunday, July 1, 2:00-4:00-ish.

Sing "Tra-la-la-lally,

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Welly-moot 1.2 (Apr 29, 2012)

This weekend's Welly-moot went off without a hitch. Kris arrived early to set up, and was quickly joined by Barbara, who had flown down from Auckland especially for the moot. By 2:15pm, thirteen people had arrived to discuss Smaug and his dragonous cronies. An ominous number indeed!

From the far left, around the table ccw: Barbara, Jack, Charlene, Kumi, Hawk, Ryan, Brian, Harrison, Suzie, Wayne, Kris, and Martyn. Missing: Alex (taking the picture), and Iain & Partner who arrived shortly after.

Shortly after though, Iain arrived with his partner, bringing us away from the unlucky number, and coincidentally up to The Hobbit's "fellowship" numbers instead.
Kris, and Iain and his wife

After coffee orders and introductions, we got started. To set the mood, Kris had brought with her some prints from Alan Lee and John Howe, which were displayed on one of the tables.

Hawk spotted Nessie - potentially of Dragon-kind! Behind him, left, is Alan Lee's Smaug, and on the right, John Howe's version. Let's see what Peter Jackson's version ends up looking like!
Also on display on my iPad was a presentation created by Welly-moot friend Peter Kenny from Australia, who sent me the link in anticipation of our meeting. The presentation can also be found on his Facebook page. Thanks again for that, Peter!

Martyn opened with a discussion on Welsh Dragons, and where Saint George's story fit into England's mythology - not very well, by the sounds of things! Various versions of the myth were offered, including a Libyan one. It sounds like it was eventually Richard the Lionheart who brought the story to England.

Martyn in full swing, with Kris and Wayne considering the evidence.

Ryan shows Hawk a print of St George's dragon as a Wyvern (two-legged, winged dragon)
Next, Alex demonstrated her skills at the Japanese art of Origami. Origami is an ancient art that's been around since early in Japan's Edo period (early 1600's), and is now practiced widely around the world. The word "Origami" simply means Folding ("Ori") Paper ("Kami"). True Origami involves folding a square sheet of paper, without cuts or glue.

Alex concentrates while I read her notes out to the group. Barbara is mesmerised (as the rest of us were!)

Kumi and Charlene memorise every fold! (Right?)
 Alex's chosen model was, of course, a dragon. She'd prepared a few extras beforehand, for everyone else to take home with them.

A selection of Dragons and Drakes

Japanese dragons are diverse legendary creatures in Japanese mythology and folklore. The style of the Japanese dragon was heavily influenced by the Chinese dragon. Like these other Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities associated with rainfall and bodies of water, and are typically depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. Interestingly, although wingless, they do often fly.

After Alex's Origami demonstration, Wayne spoke about English Dragon sightings in the 1600's. He had located a book with actual eyewitness accounts of Dragons, with some fairly detailed descriptions. I always wonder what that might have been - a crocodile? A Komodo dragon perhaps? Indonesia had been discovered, and trading would have been going well already. It's conceivable that somebody brought a giant Monitor lizard back for their own amusement, which had perhaps escaped somehow.

Or, of course, it could have been an Actual Dragon!

The discussion also touched, without definite results, on whether the fell beasts that the Nazgul ride on in ROTK were some form of Dragons, or at least Cold-Drakes. It seems they came from Angband, which is where (if memory serves me right) Morgoth created the Orcs from tortured Elves. Perhaps he also tortured Cold-Drakes into submission there? Was the great prison of Angband maybe Morgoth's Genetic Manipulation Laboratory?

On a related note, Smaug the Magnificent has recently been in the world news as well - he's made the top spot at the Forbes Rich List! Well, the Forbes Fictional 15, at least. Last year, he only made spot #7, although that appears to have been based on wrong assumptions of his wealth, and miscalculations. I'm impressed that the list has been modified, and he now claims his rightful spot at the top of the list! They don't call him The Magnificent for nothing!

During the course of the afternoon, it was mentioned that both Wayne and Iain had appeared in LOTR. Of course, since I had the Extended Editions on my iPad, that started a quick search for them both - and with success! Wayne is very easy to spot, and most people will probably remember his moment at the start of the Helm's Deep battle - Aragorn tells the archers to "Fire!", and Wayne repeats the call, moments later. Yes, the eye-patch is indeed real, and my guess is that Peter Jackson saw the appeal of Wayne's unusual look to give the battle an edgier, more visceral visual style.

Wayne with his signature moment


 Iain was harder to find, although also a nice important moment in the ROTK - moments after Arwen and Aragorn kiss after the Coronation, Elrond smiles the smile of a proud dad, and on the left side of the screen, behind Elrond's Elven neighbour, you can see Iain quite clearly (click on the picture for a better view)

Iain, after Aragorn's Coronation scene

Iain is on the far left, with the cool hat (click for a better view).

All in all, it was a very successful meeting. We met, shared stories, discussed the theme, and most importantly, generally had a great time of it. Thanks to everyone who attended, and made it all possible! Thanks also to the Embassy Theatre staff and their excellent coffee and cake - it was enjoyed by all! And to those who couldn't make it - there's always a next time -  the next meeting will be on July the 1st.

  - Jack Machiela

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Heads up people - next meeting approaches!

The next Welly-moot meeting is coming up this Sunday, 29th of April, starting at 2:00pm, upstairs at the Embassy Theatre. The theme of the meeting will be Dragons, and it sounds like there's going to be a few different takes on the subject.

So please, spread the word - if you enjoy meeting other Hobbit friends, turn up and join us! And even if you don't make it there, could you help spread the word far and wide? Share this info on your Facebook page, or via Twitter, or via any other method.

  - Jack

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Japanese Dragons at next Moot!

In keeping with the Dragons theme of our next Welly-moot, founding member Alex will demonstrate her skills at the ancient Japanese art of Origami, and will try her hand at making paper dragons.

Red Dragon by Alex

These are not easy creatures to fold out of a single square piece of paper, without cutting or glueing! If you want to see how she does it, be sure to come to the next meeting!

Also, one of our regular attendees, Kumiko is also working on "a Japanese Dragon" of some kind. More details as they come to hand!

Remember, the next meeting is April 29th, upstairs at the Embassy Theatre at 2:00pm.

Spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, or any other method!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dwarves to Dragons - the Tale Continues April 29!

The Professor certainly filled Middle-earth with a collection of weird and wonderful beings. Last moot we had a look at the dwarves of Erebor.  Continuing The Hobbit theme, we thought we might take a look at that Most Magnificent Worm, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities, the Impenetrable Peril - Smaug the Dragon.

Smaug Destroys Lake Town, © John Howe (*)

Tolkien fans, being the creative and imaginative folk that they are, can surely all visualize what that   mighty drake must have looked, sounded and, if one were particularly unlucky, felt like. For our next moot, please bring something to help develop a picture of the last great dragon of Middle-earth. Draw a nightmare image of flaming breath and riveting eyes. Write an ode to the Master of Beguilement. Compose lyrics to a tune we can sing around the communal fire in memory of the devastation of Smaug.  Play a madrigal on your lute or flute. Bring all to the table: jokes, riddles (particularly enjoyed by dragons), skits, costume, wherever your talents and skills may lie.

If performance is more terrifying for you than tooth, claw and tail, bring a dragon-related artifact to display, something from your collection to make us gasp and lust with the desire of dwarves.  Perhaps you have an image or statue, a historical poem concerning dragons you could share to add to our knowledge of these mysterious beasts. If all inspiration abandons you, do not despair and fall away! Come and marvel at the contributions of your moot mates. Another time for sharing will come. We hope to make Welly-moot an exploration of all things Tolkien with contributions from all members, as each so pleases.

For somewhere to begin, try these links to dragon lore at Tolkien Gateway, a delightful source of information on all things Tolkien. Here you will find articles about Tolkien's Dragons in general, and individual articles for SmaugGlaurungAncalagon, and Scatha. Click on the sound icons for each dragon, all save Smaug, to hear the pronunciation of the name.  The pronunciation of "Smaug" being an object of debate, this might be a topic to address on the day. Anyone feel like doing some research?

See you at the Embassy Theatre's upstairs cafe, 10 Kent Terrace, at the Mt. Victoria end of Courtney Place, Wellington on Sunday, April 29, from 2:00 until about 4:00 p.m. Of course there will also be  the much anticipated coffee drinking, cake eating and general getting-to-know-each-other as usual, but this time THERE (WILL) BE DRAGONS!

Extra question: fell beasts of the Nazgul - dragons or what?


(*) The "Smaug Destroys Lake Town" Illustration is © John Howe, and used with permission from the artist. If you haven't been to his website yet, it's time you did! John Howe was intimately involved in the shaping of Peter Jackson' s Middle-earth, and looking through his Galleries, it's easy to see how much of that was kept intact in the movies. Currently, he is working hard on the next (previous?) installment, so let's see how much we'll recognise when the movie comes out!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Wizard For All Seasons, by Mark Bednarowski

The following article was written by Mark Bednarowski, and was originally printed in the magazine of the Tolkien Society (UK), Amon Hen (issue 233). It tells more of the quests of Gandalf which eventually lead him to The Shire.

The article is reprinted with kind permission of the author. Andrew Butler from Tolkien Society (UK) helped me get in touch with him. Our gratitudes go out to you both!

In a previous article [originally submitted for Amon Hen #228], “Plight of the Dwarves”, I attempted to give more insight into the motivation of Thorin and company for their quest of Mount Erebor with respect to the history of the Dwarves in the Third Age. The attempt stemmed from the anticipated release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit in order to refresh or familiarize us with the Dwarves. But the company of course did not consist entirely of Dwarves. Fairness suggests that the motivations of the remaining two should not go unconsidered.

Having said that, Hobbits, not known by nature to be excessively adventurous folk, makes it difficult, I think, to build a case for Bilbo. Apart from his no longer dormant Took-side that began to crave adventure again, motivation was scarce; while on the quest to the Lonely Mountain, the thought of himself sitting back in his comfy hobbit hole having tea by the fire came to his mind more than once.

This then, of course, leaves one other person.

“Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale.” Indeed, a quarter of very little seems to be all we have of Gandalf’s affairs after his arrival in Middle-earth to the time of a key event, that being his encounter with Thorin in Bree. Gandalf came to realize, from that meeting, a great opportunity from which the quest would form.

Fortunately, we do hear more about who this wizard was and what he did, which in itself is a remarkable tale. Yet it is not found in The Hobbit.1 “The Tale of Years” in Appendix B and The Silmarillion provide us with some significant events in the wizard’s past and also some interesting background information.

It was in the time that a shadow fell on the vast forest of Greenwood the Great that Gandalf, who later joined the ranks of the wise, first appeared in Middle-earth, circa 1000 III. Roughly a century later, the wise discovered that a stronghold was built within the great forest. In it dwelled an evil power, perhaps one of the Nazgûl. It was named Dol Guldur. Nothing is afterwards chronicled about this for over a millennium. It was then that the wise learned that the power of Dol Guldur was growing.

Gandalf suspected the most that it was Sauron. Not long after this in 2063 III, Gandalf took action and went to the evil fortress to investigate. As a result, Sauron retreated and went into hiding in the east and a watchful peace began, yet it was not to last. Almost four centuries later, Sauron returned to Dol Guldur. Three years afterwards, the White Council was formed of which Gandalf was a member.

There are other future events that indicate good relations between the wizard and other free folk.

During the Long Winter of 2758 III, Gandalf came to the aid of the Hobbits. And in 2845 III, he began a search for Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield, in the mines of Moria. (Thráin II went wandering and was thought to be in Moria after he became lost. He was in fact captured and imprisoned by Sauron in Dol Guldur.) Gandalf’s search was in vain. Other matters soon afterwards came back to his attention. Strangely, Gandalf did eventually find Thráin II, but it was quite unplanned.

The shadow in the forest grew greater. Five years later, Gandalf returned to Dol Guldur in disguise to seek more information. The news he learned was indeed grim. He reported back to Elrond that the master of Dol Guldur was Sauron himself and he had not been idle. He was trying to collect all the Rings of Power and any information on the One. Further, he was seeking news on the heirs of Isildur.

Here is the strange part. While Gandalf was on this dangerous mission, he happened to come across a pitiful looking Dwarf trapped in the dungeons of the fortress. The time the prisoner had spent there in torment had certainly taken its toll. The Dwarf had gone half-mad and they did not recognize each other. Sadly, the poor Dwarf died shortly after, but not before he passed onto Gandalf two seemingly unimportant yet curious items: a map of the Lonely Mountain and a key.

“I stowed the things away, and by some warning of my heart I kept them always with me, safe, but soon almost forgotten.” 2 He escaped Dol Guldur with no idea who the Dwarf was.

In light of new information, Gandalf urged the White Council in the following year in Rivendell to attack Sauron. Saruman then overruled the proposal and nothing was done. The decision did not rest easy with all of the council. This part essentially concludes Gandalf’s history in Middle-earth prior to his meeting with Thorin.

But where did Gandalf come from, what was his interest in the quest, and who was he anyway? As to who Gandalf was, Appendix B informs us that he was one of the Istari, but this account is very brief. As for his interest in the quest, Appendix A provides an explanation, but this fills less than a page. Tolkien did intend to include a more detailed account of what happened with Gandalf and Thorin just prior to the events of the Hobbit within the body of The Lord of the Rings, but unfortunately it had to be cut out. Yet thanks to Tolkien’s son Christopher and all his years of work on his father’s manuscripts, this account can be found in Unfinished Tales.3 It is learned that Gandalf was ordained to perform a task and was one that was vital to winning the freedom of Middle-earth. No longer can Gandalf be viewed as simply a wizard with memorable fireworks and the reputation of sending Hobbits off on adventures, but one of the Istari sent from Valinor charged to work against Sauron. But deeper than this is that his task, like that of all the Istari, has its roots embedded far back in the Elder Days.

The forces of the Valar overthrew Morgoth, Sauron’s superior, at the end of the First Age, and they did so by intervening directly on behalf of Elves and Men. The herald of Manwë himself, Eönwë, was in command of the host sent to Middle-earth to combat the might of the Black God. Victory was won, but not without heavy cost; the land of ancient Beleriand was destroyed and sank under the sea.

This was the last time the Valar attempted to protect the Children of Eru by “their own might and glory fully revealed”.4 Although Morgoth was cast out of Arda, evil was not wholly vanquished and as the ages passed, the Valar kept watch over Middle-earth. They were aware of the first downfall of Sauron at the end of the Second Age, yet they were also aware that his One Ring had not been destroyed. This meant that there still lingered a great danger: Sauron could return in time to plague and conquer the Free Peoples once again. Worse still, the strength and power of Elves and Men waned during the Third Age. More Elves departed from Middle-earth to Valinor. In the north, the kingdom of Arnor fell. In the south, Gondor no longer had a king and the Haradrim threatened its southern borders. The Dwarves suffered very many casualties in the war of the Dwarves and Orcs and many were still a wandering folk. King Théoden of Rohan was under a spell of Saruman. The White Tree died without a seedling to be found.

Would the Free Peoples of the Third Age have the strength to withstand an assault from Sauron? As predicted, Sauron began to stir again in Middle-earth. Manwë summoned the Valar and they held a council. A decision was made and had the consent of Eru. Beings of the Maiar order were to be chosen as emissaries. Of all that were chosen, five came to the north of Middle-earth. One known to be the wisest of the Maiar was named Olórin and was commanded to go by Manwë himself. Gandalf, as one of the names he became known by in Middle-earth, was reluctant to do so. He argued that he was too weak and that he also feared Sauron. Manwë retorted that that was all the more reason to go.

To amend for their past mistakes, the Valar changed tactics. The chosen were to be sent to Middle-earth to resist Sauron by different means. The Istari were charged to unite the enemies of Sauron and persuade them to do good. This method called for them to forgo might and appear as mortals in order to win the trust of Elves and Men. Yet there was a drawback: this would also imperil them or “dim their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and weariness coming from the flesh”.5 After their arrival in Middle-earth, Gandalf revealed only to Elrond, Galadriel, and Círdan that they came from the Undying Lands. Círdan had great foresight and perhaps he saw the same qualities in Gandalf that Manwë did. For Círdan entrusted Gandalf with the Ring of Fire to aid him in his task.6 Thus began the labours of Gandalf against the Shadow.

But what drove him to form the quest? Late in the Third Age, ever the evil of Mirkwood grew deeper. But Gandalf, at a time, was looking for a short rest. After travelling abroad for some 20 years, he began to head west toward the Shire. On his way there, Gandalf stayed over in Bree at an inn. Sitting down in the parlour next to the fire, he puffed on his pipe and began to contemplate matters. For his mind was burdened with troublesome thoughts. The wise already knew that Sauron had returned and was gathering strength.

Soon he would declare himself. Yet Saruman hindered Gandalf’s plan to strike at Sauron. What was his strange reluctance to disturb Sauron in Dol Guldur? Certainly, the time would come when Sauron would proceed to war. And when he did, what would be his plan? There was the possibility that Sauron could re-occupy Mordor, but Gandalf knew he intended to attack the stronghold of Rivendell once he became strong enough. The Men of the north were not as mighty as in the past, and it seemed likely that Rivendell would be attacked from the old dwelling of the Witch-king. To do that, Angmar must be reclaimed first, Gandalf thought, as one of his smoke rings drifted away. But what defence was there in that region of Middle-earth to counter the attack when it came? Now, there were only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills not far from the Lonely Mountain. Ah yes, the Lonely Mountain! Smaug the dragon could certainly become a powerful ally to Sauron. How to deal with the dragon then? (more smoke rings) Gandalf pondered about the enemies of Smaug. Both King Thrór and his son Thráin II were driven out of their dwelling under the mountain when Smaug descended upon them long ago.

Imagine how fortuitous Gandalf must have felt then when he learned that a direct descendant of the king, Thorin Oakenshield, just happened to be in town! Thorin was on his way to the Blue Mountains far to the west and also stopped over in Bree.

They began to talk and Gandalf listened with interest to the Dwarf’s tale of how he yearned to reclaim his home of old. So much in fact, that he accompanied Thorin on his journey. Soon after, he left Thorin in the Blue Mountains without a plan because Thorin’s mind seemed set on war and revenge on the dragon and Gandalf had no confidence in that idea. He returned to the Shire in April 2941 III and contemplated Thorin’s tale. While there, Gandalf heard news of a particular Hobbit. He learned that this one had the tendency at times to see the world outside the borders of the Shire and was sometimes seen talking to Dwarves. It was then that an idea suddenly hit him. Gandalf had not thought of the map and key for years. He recollected the ‘strange chance’ of how he acquired them. Gandalf then rightly guessed that the poor Dwarf imprisoned in Dol Guldur, some 91 years before, must have been Thorin’s father Thráin II.7 With access to the Lonely Mountain by a secret entrance and the services of a softfooted Hobbit, it now seemed quite possible to discover what Smaug was up to. Gandalf rode back to Thorin in haste to persuade him of his plan. And the ball began to roll.

Although Gandalf said to himself he must find a way to deal with Smaug, action against Dol Guldur was needed more. It was already spring and Gandalf had to be at the White Council by August at the latest or Saruman would have nothing done. By that time, the quest should already be well underway, so Gandalf would have to take his leave from the company for a while at an appropriate time. It was imperative to convince the council to thwart Sauron’s plans.

There was only one last preparation. Gandalf needed to assemble the entire group before they set off. He returned again to the Shire on April 25th. It was a lovely Tuesday morning when Gandalf approached Bilbo’s dwelling located in Bag End. He found him smoking in front of his round green door. “Good morning!” the Hobbit said.


Gandalf argued his case and finally convinced Saruman that they should attack Dol Guldur. “It is not needed that the Ring should be found, for while it abides on earth and is not unmade, still the power that it holds will live, and Sauron will grow and have hope. The might of the Elves and the Elf-friends is less now than of old. Soon he will be too strong for you, even without the Great Ring; for he rules the Nine, and of the Seven he has recovered three. We must strike.”8 As a result of the attack, Sauron retreated. Shortly thereafter, Gandalf headed north to Esgaroth to resume the quest. In the end, and not without great loss, the Lonely Mountain was reclaimed, and unexpectedly, Smaug fell in battle and was a threat no more. All was well, at least for the time being. As we know, the War of the Ring would later follow.

If Sauron carried out his original plan to attack Rivendell, Gandalf believed that the outcome would have been much worse for the Free Peoples. Smaug could have wreaked havoc across Eriador and Rivendell during the War of the Ring. But without the aid of this fearsome dragon, Sauron’s attack in the north was averted and there was no invasion of Eriador. Further, there then came Kings Dáin and Brand both of whom stood in the path of Sauron’s attack in the battle of Dale.

As for Gandalf’s motivation in the quest of Erebor, if not for all his work in the long years he spent in Middle-earth, it could be blandly argued that the direct command of a deity to perform a task ought to be sufficient. But we also know that while in Valinor, Olórin visited the Valar Nienna often and he learned from her the quality of pity. His compassion for those in distress overcame his fear of Sauron. In his words to Denethor in Minas Tirith, “But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands. Those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward.”9 And in the end, Smaug was dead, Sauron was later defeated for good, the king returned, and the Dominion of Men came to be; all because Gandalf and Thorin met in Bree one year sometime in the middle of March.

1 As mentioned in “Plight of the Dwarves”, The Hobbit was not initially intended to be part of Tolkien’s legendarium, the Silmarillion. Through the success of The Hobbit and the publisher’s subsequent demand for a sequel, which of course became The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien made the decision to join them to his mythology.
Years later, during the preparation of the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, and after the first volume was published, Tolkien extended the historic timeline of the legendarium beyond the end of the First Age into the Third, or into the time of The Hobbit and the War of the Ring.

2 Unfinished Tales, “The Quest of Erebor”, Harper Collins, 2000, p419

3 The Silmarillion also has an account, but – as emphasized by Christopher Tolkien in the Foreword – it is independent. Its inclusion in The Silmarillion provides the entire history of Tolkien’s mythology from the Music of the Ainur to the end of the Third Age now instead of the First. It’s another fascinating read into the affairs of Gandalf.

4 Unfinished Tales, “The Quest of Erebor”, Harper Collins, 2000, p503

5 The Blue wizards travelled into the east and were not heard from again. Radagast became too preoccupied with birds and beasts. Saruman betrayed the order. Only Gandalf held true to his purpose.

6 “For Círdan saw further and deeper than any other in Middle-earth”, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, Harper Collins, 1995, p1060

7 It does seem odd that Gandalf made this oversight and did not resolve it for nearly a century. Yet there are accounts from two sources that attempt to explain this. One is from The History of Middle-earth Vol. XII, Harper Collins, 2002, p284, and Unfinished Tales, Harper Collins, 2000, p419. To quote from the latter: “Fortunately, I did not make any mistake in my use of them. I kept them up my sleeve, as you say in the Shire, until things looked quite hopeless.”

8 The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, Harper Collins, 1999, p302

9 The Lord of the Rings, “Minas Tirith”, Harper Collins, 1995, p742