The unfathomable "why" ...
What a crazy thing to do - open a fan museum of Lord of the Rings memorabilia. That’s the staring point, isn’t it? Why would anyone do it? Why would anyone be interested? Isn’t LOTR yesterday’s news?
It started with lifelong best friends, who loved the LOTR books from when they were teenagers and who also loved to venture into their favourite fantasy world and imagine their favourite characters - normal LOTR fans in other words. But, let’s be clear, we were not at all like the friends from PJ’s Heavenly Creatures movie, and no parents were killed in the making of the Museum.
In adulthood, the friendship bond was still strong, even though Kathy was in Wellington and Liz in Melbourne.
Then came the announcement of the making of the LOTR films - based out of Wellington. Our reaction was anxiety. Being fans of the books, we were worried and the cast photos looked wrong.
Then … there was a TV preview of the Moria scene, the trailer looked promising, and the giant cave troll mounted atop the Embassy Cinema in Courtenay Place was pretty impressive. Excitement was starting to glimmer. Kathy went to the Fellowship of the Ring premiere parade - standing at the back it was still awesome. The black riders riding the red carpet, the Gondorian soldiers marching and then taking positions on top of the Embassy were stunning. And bizarre though it is to recount, most folk from Wellington didn’t then recognise the stars.
This was “before”. Then, just a day or so after Fellowship opened in December 2001, Kathy went to a midnight screening and … The rest is “after”.
Kathy enrolled her family in the excitement - including her sister who wasn’t a LOTR fan at all (actually she was a LOTR-hater). And of course, she beamed out the excitement across the Tasman sea to Liz.
Liz came over to Wellington with her family at Christmas to see her parents. Kathy visited with a book about the movie - but Liz wasn’t convinced. She and family went along the day after Christmas. She was nervous “before” - then also had the same “after” phenomenon. In fact she has a “before” photo of some family members waiting outside the Embassy cinema, unknowing of what lay in store.
After that Kathy and Liz, their friend Rusty, and their families - became dedicated fans of the movies as they rolled out in Wellington in 2002 and 2003 - it was LOTR ground zero!
We went to premieres in costume and met stars. We went to events - we were in the zone and totally lost count of the number of times we saw the movies.
The pinnacle was the 1 December 2003 World Premiere of Return of the King in Wellington, where over 100,000 people turned out to watch and cheer. In our tiny city, that was HUGE!
We kept photos, news stories, maps, posters, costumes, memorabilia and stories! For three years LOTR was our world.
Real life took hold again from 2004, and the collection was tidied away. Like the Ring, the memories grew dim.
The Hobbit didn’t bring the collection out. While Kathy and Liz enjoyed the Hobbit movies, somehow it wasn’t the same. A new cadre of fans was taking over the fan zone - and that’s just as things should be.
Then, something happened that Kathy did not expect … Easter 2016, she attended the LOTR movie marathon at the Roxy, coming in at midnight after the Hobbit movies to watch the three LOTR extended movies back to back. This wonderful event was organised by the Wellington Tolkien Society, of which Kathy was not then a member.
But seeing all those fans, many in costume, and seeing those glorious movies play again on the big screen re-awoke the joy and excitement. That was the spark.
The Museum started small and has grown a lot in its first year - particularly from incorporating the collection of another dedicated fan and kindred spirit, Jack, president of the Wellymoot. It is now straining to fit its One Room.
So where’s it at a year on? Can we yet answer the questions about who would do this and why, and whether fans new and old want to discover or rediscover the euphoria of being in Wellington when the LOTR movies first came out?? We still don’t know.
People coming have heaps of fun. Some joyful time out spent living in the world of the imagination. Young European and Kiwi fans have been completely at home here - one German tourist said it was the highlight of her trip (wow!). Local visitors have also laughed along with our doco that recalls the heady days of the ROTK world premiere.
But as with the red book, there’s room for a little more …