NewsWire: The Orlando Bloom effect--Find out how Middle-Earth sisters are doing it for their elves - The Halifax Herald Limited

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The Orlando Bloom Effect
Find out how Middle-earth sisters are doing it for their elves
By Damian Whitworth
The Halifax Herald Limited - December 28, 2003

Toronto - THIS STORY COMES TO YOU from Middle-earth, which I have been exploring for a few days. Not a bad dateline, eh?

At first sight the world that J.R.R. Tolkien described so vividly and meticulously in his books looks suspiciously like a skyscraper hotel in Toronto. But I had been told to leave any preconceptions behind and I did. So, what one might have regarded as just a hotel ballroom is in fact Isengard, the domain of the evil wizard Saruman. Bag End, home of Frodo Baggins, is less cramped than previously thought, up on the second floor. Fangorn forest is, conveniently, on the same corridor as Mirkwood.

I wouldn't have known any of this if the elves hadn't told me. There are masses of them here and very helpful they are too. There are also large colonies of hobbits, plus plenty of wizards, some luxuriously bearded dwarves and a band of ugly orcs.

This could only be the Gathering of the Fellowship, a convention of the most devoted Tolkien fans from around the world arranged to coincide with the release of The Return of the King, the third and final part of Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

The event was originally mooted a couple of years ago when a group of fans who frequented the website suggested getting together to watch The Return of the King on its release. Their plans expanded into the three-day convention that has attracted more than 2,000 aficionados of the Tolkien books and films to participate in a busy program of larks and lectures.

Before setting out I trawled various fan websites. Some are so extensive that navigating them is a Baggins-style quest itself. Tolkien inspires a huge range of followers, from those who simply like a good yarn to lovers of Norse legends and invented languages; from war gamers to costume designers; from elf fanciers to balrog obsessives.

As one who spent much of his early adolescence immersed in The Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien works, I am not unfamilar with his appeal. But that was a long time ago. The depth of knowledge and passion about his universe displayed by fans on the internet and the detail in online discussions and essays is astonishing.

An indication that this convention is likely to be more lively than that of, say, the Toronto chamber of commerce, is given in the rules governing attendance. The notes on the convention's weapons policy are extensive: "Any weapon used in an offensive manner will be confiscated." You can also be ejected without a refund "if you are behaving - in technical terms - like an orc."

The most striking thing about the event is the huge number of women attending. A rough estimate would be 75 per cent of the total. Considering that Tolkien is so often criticized for having written no major women characters and has always seemed to attract more male readers, this is mysterious.

Little female hobbits pad around in curly wigs and bare feet. Women in flowing skirts and cloaks with long, often braided, hair pose as women of Rohan and Gondor. But by far the largest number of those dressing up are elves, often complete with pointy ears.

Certainly the Orlando Bloom factor seems to be important. The English actor, who plays the elf Legolas in the movies, is a major heartthrob and was responsible for creating legions of young female Tolkien fans. And he's not the only one to have pointy-eared admirers. Craig Parker and Mark Ferguson, the Kiwi actors who had minor roles as the elves Haldir and Gil-galad, are at the Gathering and amused to find themselves at the centre of over-excited scenes. At a question and answer session they are greeted by hundreds of whooping females, a surprising number of them grey-haired. Girls queue at the microphone to ask, "Can I get a hug?" and "Can me and my friends buy you a drink?"

When I have a chat with Parker, who has recently moved to London, a woman hovers nearby wearing a Haldir lives T-shirt.

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