Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hobbits in Bloemfontein

So, I was waiting in the dentist's office today for a follow-up visit, and glanced through the latest issue of TIME. Noticing a piece on the African National Congress's 100th anniversary and its having been founded in Bloemfontein, which I hadn't known before, I thought it a pity they'd left out mention of Bloemfontein's most famous onetime resident, JRRT.

Turns out I spoke too soon. Turn the page, and there's the following paragraph:

"The short drive to Maphikela House [where the ANC
was supposedly founded] crosses South Africa's divide.
I start in leafy all-white suburbs, home to cafes, bookstores
and the Hobbit Boutique Hotel, modeled on the fantasies of
Bloemfontein's most famous son, J. R. R. Tolkien.
Then I cross the railroad track, and I'm in the township:
no trees, full of potholes and all black.
Where my tourist map indicates Maphikela House
should be is instead an abandoned warehouse, the windows
smashed, graffiti by its broken door announcing

--"How the ANC Lost Its Way" by Alex Perry,
TIME January 16, 2012, page 36

--the part about no trees, wh. suggests Haiti-style endemic poverty, wd particularly horrify Tolkien, I thought.

I'd heard of various Hobbit-hotels and Tolkien-themed houses in California and New Zealand and Montana, but this is the first time I've heard of anything commemorating him in the country where he was born. Poking about a bit on-line, I found a pretty good description of the place here:

--sounds like a nice place, although their mention of a pool and doing things BEFORE breakfast makes me wonder how hobbitish it can be (Janice points out that perhaps they mean Second Breakfast, wh. wd indeed fit). For a four-star guest house, their prices are pretty reasonable: 330 Rand for three nights in the more modest rooms (about $42) and 450 Rand (about $56) for the more expensive ones.

Poking about a bit more, I found the hotel's own website:

The emphasis on food and comfort here does indeed show the Van der Westhuizens, who run the place, got it right, on this point at least. Must admit I'm curious about the 'historical items' they mention. There seem to be twelve rooms, each named for a LotR character. It's an interesting list, including seven of the Fellowship (no Boromir, and more surprisingly no Gandalf):


I doubt that I'll ever find myself in Bloemfontein, but if I did I'd certainly want to stay there, and wd try out their high tea if we were just passing through (assuming I'd be admitted to a "women's tea").

*they actually have Gimli's name as "Gimley" on the website, but since they also have "Pippen" on the same list but correctly spelled (Pippin) in the slideshow, I suspect this is a typo on their website, not for the room itself.


Pax said...

Looks like a nice place, although somehow I have trouble reconciling the word "boutique" with Hobbits. I also couldn't help smiling at the description of a "character-filled" bar. I'm guessing "themed" was what they meant. For a moment, I had a horrifying Disneyland type vision.

David Bratman said...

I see we have to add to the increasing list of "That comes from the movie you saw, not from the book you were supposed to read" (- Prof. M. Foster) the concept of "Second Breakfast." In The Hobbit, Bilbo has himself "a nice little second breakfast," and in The Lord of the Rings they're said to be "fond of six meals a day (when they could get them", but the extrapolation that hobbits had an actual regular meal called "Second Breakfast" is pure Jackson, not Tolkien.