We pulled off the highway and into an empty parking lot boasting an empty restaurant, empty gift shop, and “The Amazing Chimney Tree” (also empty). Checking my map to be sure that this was indeed the site of Hobbiton USA, it finally dawned on me: this place was deserted, and judging by the looks of things, had been for some time.
I looked around me and spotted the now-barred entrance into Hobbiton. Well, not exactly barred. The sagging wooden gate may have warded off less worthy interlopers, but we were on a quest. Debating what was to be done, I noticed a small gap in the fence; not quite the knocking of the thrush, but it would have to do. “Speak friend and enter,” I quipped. Star rolled her eyes as she squeezed through the make-shift entrance.
The dusty footpath led uphill, gradually switchbacking in front of a row of brightly colored, circular doors. Star and I took turns picking out future real estate investments, should we find it necessary to relocate to the Shire. At the end of the row was Bag End, where a statue of Gandalf himself stood knocking, concrete fingers crumbling in leprous glory. The door had already been flung open, however, Bilbo’s home having been visited by what I can only assume was a group of squatters with a penchant for Bud Lite. Dismayed by such disregard for Halfling hospitality, we continued up the hill.
A little further up the path we found the ghost town of Bree, where once-bright signs announced a now-abandoned Inn of the Prancing Pony. In its heyday, this would have been an outpost of rest and refreshment, but not in this 4th age of man. Tepid water trickled from a rusting fountain. An empty porch, by-gone symbol of hospitality, loomed ominously over Bree’s empty square. We hurried on.
Just outside the city gates, the dusty path crested and transformed; a rich, earthy trail ran down the other side of the hill. Winding through the towering redwoods—now in sunlight, now in shadow—the journey took on an ethereal quality, grounded only by the concrete figures interspaced every fifty yards or so.
Just off the trail, Gollum crouched in a dog house-sized cave, looking more like a green, bug-eyed space alien than Peter Jackson’s CGI creation, or even better, the image conjured in my head by my mother’s hissing vocalization.
Further on, discolored wargs had treed a group of tattered cloth dwarves, whose stuffing hung down like second beards. Birds commiserated with the hapless party by chirping from nearby branches, but I was hearing songs from the 1977 animated film.
The greatest desolation, however, was yet to come…
Read the epic conclusion!