A notice appeared on the door of New York’s Morgan Library & Museum: “No Admittance Except on Party Business.” That party was in celebration of the museum’s current J.R.R. Tolkien exhibition, “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth,” featuring the author and linguist’s art and writings for The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy stories in his invented realm of Middle-earth—and beyond.
The event was dubbed “A Long-expected Party” after the opening chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring—the first book in Tolkien’s famed trilogy—which sees Bilbo Baggins celebrate his 111th, or eleventy-first, birthday with an epic bash.
The Morgan’s costume party was even bigger than Bilbo’s, welcoming 685 guests. But as in the book, party-goers came from far and wide. In this case, they flew in from California, Colorado, and even as far afield as Venezuela for the occasion.
Dancing under a recreation of the Shire’s famed “Party Tree,” where Bilbo gave his confounding speech before disappearing into the night, were hobbits aplenty, plus dwarfs, wizards, and elves—we even spotted Gollum in attendance.
This isn’t the first time denizens of Middle-earth have journeyed the museum. On the show’s opening day, “we had a couple of wizards,” Noreen Khalid Ahmad, the Morgan’s director of communications, told artnet News. “They were required to check-in their staves at coat check.”
Tickets to the sold-out celebration ranged from $35 to $100 and included after-hours access to the exhibition, hobbit-themed alcoholic beverages, and live music from the Lonely Mountain Band.
Here’s what some of the guests had to say about the exhibition, their love of Lord of the Rings, and the extensive handiwork that went into their costumes.
Lisa Harwell, Nick Eliopulos, and Andrew Eliopulos
Your hobbit feet are amazing. Did you make them?
Nick: We read how to do it online. We bought plastic feet, cut them up, and glued them onto old shoes that we would have thrown away anyway.
Andrew: No, I bought shoes specifically for this!
Nick: Well, they were on sale.
It looks like you have hobbit feet and elf ears. What’s that about?
Nick: There is some debate about how pointy hobbit ears should be. We did some research. This is actually what they sell at the Renaissance fair in upstate New York if you say, “I want to look like a hobbit.”
Lisa: We read a quote from Tolkien where he said hobbits had pointed ears but not as pronounced as elves. Mine are too pointy!
Where are you from?
Nick: We’re from New York, but she’s from Georgia. She flew up specifically for this party.
Lisa: We planned it starting in January. This is my son and my son-in-law.
Andrew: She turned me on to Lord of the Rings many years ago. It’s a family affair.
Nick: And my friend Zack is also here. We write a middle grade fantasy series together, The Adventurers Guild. It’s very Dungeons and Dragons.
Kailey Bennett and Benton Bennett
Are you dressed as Gollum going to a party?
Benton: [in Gollum voice] When dresses for dinner!
Kailey: And I’m dark Galadriel when she’s tempted by the ring. But I took the ring!
And now we have a dark queen! How did you put these outfits together?
Kailey: Mine’s been in construction for a few months. I used a dress form and covered it in circle stickers and silver paint to make it look like hammered metal. I dyed this base dress and added a cloak that my husband sewed. And I styled the wig to make it a little curly.
Benton: Mine was pretty easy. Most of the stuff I owned. We do a lot of cos-play, but this is the first time using prosthetics and a bald cap, so we had fun this morning!
Where are you from?
Benton: Brewster, Connecticut. We took the train in to Grand Central. Got a lot of photos and confused looks.
Kailey: A lot of people saying, “Well now we’re in New York City.”
Sandra Unger, Robin, Craig Stanfeld, Sharon Stanfeld, and Joanne Shaver
And who do we have here?
Sandra: We have various hobbits, I’m Galadriel, and he’s a guard at Minas Tirith.
Robin: And I’m a woman of Bree!
Sandra: We met at a Tolkien fellowship back at Michigan State University in the ’70s.
Craig: We got together every week, sang Tolkien songs, and played Tolkien trivia games.
And where do you live now?
Sandra: We’re in New Jersey
Sharon: And we’re from Boston.
You guys look great. How did you do the hobbit feet?
Joanne: To my eternal shame, they came from Amazon.
Sandra: But I hand-sewed this cloak about 40 years ago, for a Tolkien thing going on at the library. And now it looks old and battered and appropriate.
Tim “Timdalf” Fisher
Hi Gandalf! Where are you from?
I’m from Valley Cottage, New York, which is near Nyack.
How long have you been working on your costume?
I’ve had this since the films, about 15 years. I was in front of Radio City Music Hall for about two hours when they did the films with the live concerts.
When did you first read the books?
About 1965, so way back. I wasn’t that impressed with them. But the films really rejuvenated my interest, and even before that I had begun to realize there was a lot more to Tolkien than meets the eye.
What do you think of the exhibition?
To see this stuff, in person, up close, is really an experience.
I love your Arwen costume.
Actually, it’s just a random elf.
But you have the Evenstar.
No, it’s just a pendant that looks similar! I bought it on Etsy. I had them switch out a pearl for a moonstone.
Where are you from?
California; the San Jose area. I came out by myself just for the exhibit.
And where did you get the costume?
I hand-sewed it. It took about a year, on and off. I made this way before the exhibition.
So you’ve been waiting for the occasion to come along where you could wear it.
I just did it for me, so the fact that there is an occasion for me to wear it without having too many people roll their eyes at me is excellent.
Colton Opyd and Dan Opyd
How did you get interested in the Lord of the Rings?
Dan: I read the books for the first time when I was in high school, and then I read them to my children. He’s the oldest, and I read him The Hobbit when he was eight years old. He has been a Tolkien fan ever since.
How old are you now?
Colton: I’m 17.
Dan: This trip is for his birthday.
Happy birthday. Where are you from?
Dan: Denver, Colorado.
How did you plan your costumes?
Dan: We’re Shire hobbits, but he’s got his travel pack on. He’s got a little Tookish blood in him, so at some point you have to start wandering.
Colton: The clothes are mostly things we found at thrift stores.
Dan: We bought the shirts on Amazon. This vest is my uncle’s from 50 years ago. And my wife shortened the pants for us.
Ward Archibald and Sarah McCully
How long have you been Tolkien fans?
Sarah: I think for both of us it’s been a lifelong thing. My mom read me The Hobbit when I was three or something.
Where are you from?
Sarah: I live in Ithaca. I won an Instagram giveaway to get the tickets so it seemed like a serendipitous moment.
Ward: And I live in Brooklyn.
And are you dressed as specific hobbits?
Sarah: I’m Rosie Cotton.
Ward: I would have gone as Sam to match, but with my hair I had to be Frodo.
Sarah: Unfortunately for my status as a cool person, I actually had a lot the components for awhile. I go to a lot of Renaissance festivals! And we pieced together the rest of the elements.
Ward: We ordered some things online. I didn’t have the slippers. She already did—they are her favorite slippers to wear around the apartment.
Gimli, where is your ax?
No axes allowed! It’s at my apartment.
Did you make that helmet? It’s incredible.
I made it out of foam. It took way longer than I thought. About two weeks of my free time. I have experience using an X-Acto knife, but it was still a lot longer than I wanted to spend on it. I always wanted to buy a Gimli helmet, but all the replica stuff is so expensive.
What do you do that you’re so artistic?
I’m a graphic designer for Penguin Random House.
When did you get into Tolkien?
I read The Hobbit and the trilogy in high school. The movies were a huge part of my high school experience. I’ve watched them and read them a million times. I even know most of the Dwarvish runes!
Did you make your costume?
Yes I did. I love Legolas’s character.
How long did it take?
Months. It’s not finished, but I’m in the process of making it screen accurate. I didn’t even know about this party when I started.
When did you become a fan?
Pretty recently. I read them over the summer and then I watched the movies.
What grade are you in?
I’m in tenth grade. I’m here with my mom. We live in Queens.
Why did you chose to dress up as Legolas?
I love his friendship with Gimli, and that he’s part of the group but he’s also a little separate. I liked that.
“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” is on view at the Morgan Library & Museum, 224 Madison Avenue, New York, January 25–May 12, 2019.
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