Area fans ring in ‘Hobbit’ release

Hordes of fans are scurrying out of their hobbit holes to celebrate the release of Peter Jackson’s film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” but not many have gone to the lengths Atlantan Rebecca Perry has.

She celebrated the event by going all the way to Middle-earth.

Perry recently returned from New Zealand, the shooting location that stands in for Tolkien’s fantasy land, for the world premiere of the film. She rubbed elbows with the stars on the red carpet, attended a costume party in a custom made ring-themed dress and paid a visit to the set location of the Hobbit village Hobbiton, located in the small New Zealand town of Matamata.

“The entire city of Wellington came together, and you could feel a buzz in the city,” she said. “Every shop had ‘Hobbit’ movie posters, there were banners hanging from the street lamps. I had never really experienced anything like that, and it was pretty exciting.”

Perry is not alone in her enthusiasm. The excitement surrounding “The Hobbit” is expected to bring it instant blockbuster status. The franchise, which began with Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has already reportedly raked in nearly $3 billion worldwide.

Many metro Atlanta devotees planned on getting a jump on the opening festivities here by attending midnight screenings. Count Perry among them. She had planned before the showing to orchestrate a line party at the Regal Atlantic Station 16 cinemas, complete with trivia games and guests decked out in “Hobbit” duds.

It was a hobbit costume that brought Georgian Chris Herzberg and Nadine Palmer together in Atlanta.

After Herzberg’s sister told him he bore a striking resemblance to Orlando Bloom, who played the elf character Legolas in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, he tried his hand at costuming. He donned his elven best at DragonCon 2004, an annual fantasy, science fiction and comics convention in Atlanta. After a photo op with a gaggle of fellow Tolkien fans, he struck up a conversation with Palmer, whom he calls “ the love of my life.”

When Palmer first saw an online photo of Herzberg as the character, she said she thought, “Whoa, who’s that cute guy that looks like Legolas?”

After the initial convention connection, the pair kept in touch on line. In 2006 she left her San Antonio home and went on her own unexpected journey to Augusta to be with him.

They merged their Tolkien-related memorabilia collections and share a deep affection for the books and films.

A seamstress, Palmer creates her own costumes from Tolkien’s world. To date she’s made more than 30 “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” costumes, including a spot-on Bilbo Baggins ensemble and a spooky Witch King creation. She even dons them herself, including an outfit like Arwen’s the elven princess.

As for Herzberg, his love for Tolkien seeps into his day job.

“Tolkien was brilliant at writing in the smallest of characters to be the strongest,” he said. “He knew how to appeal to the underdog in us all. I have taught ‘The Hobbit’ for the past three years to my eighth-grade literature class and have been able to tie it into the curriculum.”

Besides potentially garnering enough gold to make Smaug the dragon salivate, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is helping shine the spotlight back on Tolkien’s literature.

Perry, who plans special events, writes articles and makes convention appearances for the fan site TheOneRing.net. She also organizes monthly gatherings for Tolkien lovers. Her Facebook group, Atlanta Tolkien Fans, brings together the like-minded for conversations and field trips.

On one outing they visited the Decatur art studio of fantasy artist Jef Murray. Murray’s Tolkien-inspired art has hung on gallery walls in the United Kingdom and appeared in a variety of fantasy publications, calendars and on Tolkien television specials. A piece titled “Mirkwood” serves as the poster art for the stage production of “The Hobbit” running at Lionheart Theatre in Norcross through December 15.

Murray’s fanship sprang from the written page, although he appreciates aspects of the Jackson films.

“I’m excited to see it,” Murray said, “but I’m also very scared that he’s going to take too many licenses with the storyline like he did with ‘The Lord of the Rings.’”

Although Murray said he “thoroughly enjoyed” Jackson’s earlier films, he’s more devoted to the original work and Tolkien’s “moral compass.”

“There’s a timelessness to Tolkien’s storytelling because he reacquaints us with epic tales that have deep moral roots — tales in which heroes are truly heroes, and friendship and love and honor are everything we know they should be, but that we often fall short of ourselves,” he said.

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