Monday, March 29, 2010

Hobbiton USA Is No More

So, one of the stops I wanted to make so long as we were in the area was HOBBITON USA,* a tacky Tolkien-themed tourist trap just south of Phillipsville (pop. 250) near the Avenue of the Giants (the wonderful drive through the southernmost of the four Redwoods state & nat'l parks in the area).

Turns out I was a few years too late. The site is now derelict, with a 'no trespassing' sign by the entrance where you pull off the highway. Had there simply been the closed sign, I wd have been tempted to poke around a bit to see the trail (after all, when was I going to have another chance?), but accompanied as I was by my conscience, I refrained. Still, you can see enough to get a sense of what it's like without entering the site.

From what I assume to have been the parking lot you can see Gandalf standing by the door of Bag End (half the door is missing), two other hobbit-hole's round doors, and the three trolls -- at least one of them v. obviously based on the Rankin-Bass cartoon. Checking google, I see that several folks have posted pictures of the displays we didn't get to see (out of sight up the hill, I assume): Bilbo, a warg trying to climb a tree, spiders and cocooned dwarves, Gollum in his cave, an Eagle, Smaug, Bard and the thrush -- several among them obviously taken from the Rankin-Bass-- and, rather puzzlingly, what looks like Bakshi's Aragorn. In person, it looks more like a miniature golf course than anything, except without as much dignity. No one will really miss it now it's gone, but still I'm sorry not to have seen it in all its awfulness. Let's hope no one ever builds another.

--John R.
current reading: THE PTEROSAURS.
current writing: "Inside Literature" (Kalamazoo paper)

*thanks, David, for letting me know beforehand that it was in the area

UPDATE (4/2-10)
Thanks to all those lucky visitors (David, Monte, Ed) who posted in the comments memories of visiting the spot before it closed. David also published a post about it on his own blog, which is well worth checking out if you haven't already (http://calimac.livejournal.com/437865.html).

One thing I overlooked until reminded of it by some links within links is that the place is featured in RINGERS: LORD OF THE FANS, the Dominic Monaghan-narrated documentary about Tolkien fandom. If you have this dvd from 2005, check out scene 10, which devotes two and a half minutes to touring the place and briefly giving a little of its history (apparently it opened in 1981; from other indications it went into decline after the woman who created it died in 1996). Described as "a living diorama of THE HOBBIT", which seems fair enough, it includes shots of Bilbo and Gandalf at the doorstep of Bag End, someone (a dwarf I assume) treed by a warg, wrapped-up dwarves hanging above Bilbo as he battles a Spider, an Eagle rescue, a castle (?? is this supposed to be Rivendell?), Lake Town*, Gollum's Cave, and the Shire Map. We also get to hear a little of the recorded push-the-button dialogue, which doesn't sound nearly as bad as I'd been expecting (one reviewer said it was obviously recorded by someone who played D&D a lot, as if this were a bad thing).

--JDR

*"it's only a model!" (by far the cheesiest of all the displays shown -- and yet another internet link featured the company that built the little 'lake' describing how it was done to show the versatility of their product)


8 comments:

David Bratman said...

I suspected it might no longer be with us, as googling it had produced the kind of results I associate with restaurants that have gone out of business.

But rather than awful, I found it rather charming on my visit. However bad illustrations the art would have made, as physical dioramas they were disarming. The recorded pushbutton narration, outlining The Hobbit's plot as related to each diorama scene in turn, was fairly accurate, and the last line of the last narration was unforgettable:

"And so Bilbo returned safely to his hobbit hole, just as you will soon return to the parking lot."

David Bratman said...

Thinking further, the haze of distance may be leading me to be too kind. I do remember making less than sympathetic remarks about it after my one visit many years ago.

Possibly Hobbiton U.S.A. could have been classified as one of those rare endeavors which is so bad that it's good.

MonteCook said...

It was kitschy and tacky, but charming in a way. Sue and I went there in the early 2000s and it really felt like it would have been more appropriate in the 70s, with hidden speakers telling the story of the hobbit as you went from scene to scene. If memory serves, a few of the scenes were pretty well done. Most were not. I still have the One Ring I got at the end of the tour. I bet Sue has hers too.

Ed said...

I grew up in Eureka, CA, and I was able to persuade my parents to take a trip to visit Hobbiton USA around 1983 (I was 10 years old at the time). I'd learned about it from the Tolkien Enterprises fan club newsletter, and was excited that such a thing was so close to where I lived. I seem to recall being moderately pleased with the place, although not overwhelmed. I remember buying some LOTR playing cards at the gift shop afterwards--they had the Bakshi movie animated characters on it (hey, I was only 10!). I also recall that my Dad, who had zero interest in Tolkien, but who was very interested in botany (he was a wildlife biologist), was impressed with some of the signs pointing out various flora along the trail.

John, it was nice reading details of your trip through northern California--as someone who grew up there, I sometimes took the redwoods and other natural phenomena for granted.

Ed Pierce

John D. Rateliff said...

Perhaps I was too harsh; my own attitude is that I wanted to see it, because it was connected w. Tolkien, however bad it might turn out to be, because I want to see everything connected with Tolkien. And so came away disappointed to have missed it, but without any illusions about its quality.

I view such peripheral Tolkienia as like the little fairy queen on Nokes' Cake: tacky, but harmless enough, and for some a first glimpse of a world of wonder. I'd say the same of the Rankin-Bass film, the Bakshi movie, and even (worst of all) the Hildebrandts. I know people who encountered these at an early age and credit their later love of Tolkien to that event.

I wd like one of those little souvenir rings, though . . .

Thanks to all for sharing their memories.

--John R.

P.S.: Redwoods are great! And I know what you mean about not visiting things in your own area; that's why Janice and I have made a concerted effort to do so the past few years (during which I've finally made it down to Mt. Rainier, over to the San Juans, and east of the Cascades). But then back in my grad school days I'd been living in Milwaukee for almost a year (well, nine months) before I saw Lake Michigan . . .

David Bratman said...

During my residence in Seattle, I made a point of visiting every county in Washington and Oregon that I had not previously been to. This netted me drives through some beautiful countryside, and led me to a small used bookstore where I nabbed a copy of Pat Murphy's The Shadow Hunters. So it was worthwhile.

The first time I ever saw Lake Michigan, the shores were covered with endless numbers of dead fish. The locals acted as if this were normal.

Melissa said...

I was saddened to see that Hobbiton, USA was no more. I remember this trail from when I was a child and experienced it in the mid 80's. As a child it was amazing to see and hear the story as you walked along the trail. It was very low-tech, but as a kid, who cares? Adults were probably not thrilled, but even as I visited again in the early 90's it brought me back to the child-like thoughts of make-believe and wonder. So sad that it is gone. :-(

Gary Jennings said...

My brother and my wife and I stopped at this location at the end of 1979 and the guy running the gift shop was telling us all about the plans they had for the place. He even showed us some stuff under construction. We were big Tolkien fans and were excited about the plans they had. I'm just learning that it finally opened in 1981 and sadly, we never made it back to see it finished. I purchased a Treebeard mug there and kept it for years but have since lost it. My brother and I are riding our Harleys to the Avenue of the Giants this coming August (2013) and will be checking out what's left anyway.