The London Experience

by Indis
Dear friends,

I am back from London, from one of the most wonderful experiences that you could imagine.

My sister and I went to the LotR exhibition, together with Varda, which was a pleasure in itself. She knows London quite well and is a brilliant guide (…and only when she said ‘Long ways to go yet, follow me, Varda will show you the way…’ in that strange voice I was a bit concerned, hehehe…). You will have read her fabulous reports, and there is not much that I could add apart from my personal views.

This exhibition has touched my heart and soul so deeply that I still find it hard to come to terms with it. From the very beginning it had me under its spell, so to say.
We had tickets for two days, which was good, as on the first day I walked through the artefacts like in a dream. I do not think that I saw anything with seeing eyes; I just soaked up what was there without realizing much. On the second day, though, I took notes to be able to remember. You are not allowed to take photos, which is terrible, but on the other hand this way you can concentrate much better on what you see which makes it a very intense experience.

The exhibition halls are guarded by the Argonath and if you dare to ignore Gandalf’s voice shouting ‘You shall not pass’ you enter a quite dark area, and you also enter a wonderland for every LotR addict.

You hardly could wish for more: there are dresses, armours, weapons, the most beautiful Elvish jewellery, including Galadriel’s, Celeborn’s and Elrond’s crowns and belts , stunning banners, Elvish, Gondorian and Rohan, including the torn banner that tumbles down the hill when Aragorn enters Edoras, props of every kind: there is the telescope from Rivendell, artefacts from Saruman’s study, the ‘bigature’ of the Hobbiton mill, ruined as seen in Frodo’s vision in Galadriel’s mirror (the Orthanc ‘bigature’ was not there because it was needed at the moment for more shooting), you have Sam’s backpack in two sizes to illustrate the size magic the wizards at Weta conjured, manuscripts from the Minas Tirith library, including Isildur’s report on the ring, an Elven Heraldic trumpet, the Three Rings of Power as well as the rings of the Nazgul , evil looking with the symbol of the red eye, a Gondorian saddle, … too much to tell you all the details.

Many of the main characters are represented by their dresses: Frodo’s outfit in Hobbit size, his Mithril shirt, Arwen’s beautiful blue requiem dress and her riding garb, Aragorn’s ranger outfit, Legolas’ woodland outfit, Théodens armour from Helm’s Deep, Galadriel’s white robe from Lothlórien, Gandalf’s grey and Saruman’s white robe. Gimli’s armour had been temporarily replaced by the formal dress of one of the dwarves at Elrond’s council because Gimli’s dress was needed for shooting. Even Treebeard was there, as a life-size model. He did not impress me much, though, although I love Treebeard, because his eyes were dead in the model, no sign of the twinkle that makes him so gorgeous in the movie.

Representing the dark side are Sauron himself in full size, the cave-troll, a ring-wraith and Lurtz, again in full size…and I tell you, seeing them in the dark rooms is a nerve-wrecking experience!

All over the exhibition you find text displays and monitors showing short videos to explain things, very much like on the DVDs. In fact, some of the videos were from the FotR-DVD; some will probably be on the EE of TTT.
You could touch a few things, like different models of swords or chain mail and there was a chance to get a picture made in Gandalf’s cart, where you were digitally shrunk to Hobbit size.

Artwork they had, paintings, sketches, drawings, many by Alan Lee, some by John Howe, some by other artists. The most beautiful of all is the watercolour by Alan Lee, showing Rivendell…

What was so striking in this exhibition was that at no time you had the feeling that you were shown movie props and costumes, everything, every single item, no matter how small or unimportant it would seem, is done with such great art and care that you really, really have the feeling to see an exhibition of archaeological rather than contemporary artefacts.

And the colours!!! Through the filters that they used in the movies very often you don’t see the true colours of the dresses or weapons, which is a pity, for they are most beautiful. The Dwarf’s robe for example is glowing in a dark, deep wine red, rich and earthly, Gil-Galad’s shield has a veil of unearthly shiny blue among gold, and the blue of Arwen’s dress is unbelievable.

Théodens armour left me breathless. This is by far the most beautiful work I have seen in a long time: not one piece without decoration, every millimetre covered with patterns and designs beyond belief, the colours indescribable. The video even states that the makers of this masterpiece have left the equivalent of ‘Made in Rohan’ on the inside of the helmet, where it will never been seen by the public, just to give Bernhard Hill the feeling of really being King of Rohan.

The love, pride and dedication of everybody working on these artefacts speak to you through every single piece. It is so touching to imagine how much work went into these most beautiful items, each single one a masterpiece.

And Boromir is there, lying still and pale in his Elven boat…need I say more? He was so real, it was frightening. Now, my reason told me that this was just a double, made of polyurethane or some other magic stuff. But my heart told me that this was indeed Boromir, beloved son of the Steward of Gondor. And what nearly finished me was to see the little bit of dirt on his brow and the mud under the sole of his boots! There were people crying as if they were standing at the coffin of a beloved friend, and I shed more than one tear myself!

Funny enough, this was not the most touching moment during my visit. The real breakdown came right in the beginning, when my eyes first fell on Arwen’s requiem dress, the gorgeous blue velvet one with the silver trims and sleeves. This was the first thing I saw in the exhibition, and it was then that I realized that this was for real, that this was no screen or pic in a book or magazine but a real thing that had been used in the movies. Oh the joy…and the pain!

The same happened again on the second day when the people at one of the displays moved aside and suddenly I saw Frodo’s Mithril shirt, Galadriel’s phial and Sting. It was as if somebody had hit me, when I realized that these were the true props, the true shirt…

As I said before it took me a couple of days to come to terms with the experience of this exhibition. I was wondering why and I think I found out.
To see all these dresses and props is so deeply touching because this is as close as I will ever get to…not the actors, not the movies, but the characters that bring LotR to life.
When I look at Aragorn’s torn and worn ranger outfit before my inner eyes I do not see Viggo Mortensen but Aragorn, Strider, Elessar. And this is Legolas’ dress here, not Orlando’s and Frodo’s Mithril shirt, not Elijah’s.
It is not the actors that my heart is longing for but those who inhabit Middle-Earth: I want to meet Aragorn, stern and upright, not Viggo. I love Frodo, the brave, stout, true-hearted Hobbit, not Elijah. I want to see Legolas, who sleeps with open eyes and sings songs of the far sea, not Orlando. I am longing to be in Rivendell and hear soft voices fill the air with song and laughter, I long for the mystery and magic of Lothlórien where the Lady Galadriel rules.
Peter Jackson once said that one of the most fabulous experiences during the making of the movies was the fact that he could walk in Rivendell and for a time believe that he was really there. And this, I think, happened to me: for a short while I could allow myself to think that these were not movie props but the real dresses of the real people. This was as close to reality as the Lord of the Rings will ever come for me, and it was absolutely overwhelming. The LotR has been with me for many long years, but in this very moment it was right there before my eyes! Not far away in a long gone past, not far away on the screen, no, right here…
And then I had to leave…

Lucky I call myself that I had the chance to see it, and although I am still very sad I will never forget these days.

Thanks for listening.
Love to you all