Casting a Middle-earth fantasy world

16:00, Nov 16 2012

At a press conference to launch The Return of the King a few years back, Sir Ian McKellen wryly observed that Wellingtonians needed to understand New Zealand wasn't actually Middle-earth.

But with the premiere of the first Hobbit movie about to close our streets, Gollum catching a fish at the airport terminal, a bunch of hobbit mailmen strolling along the NZ Post building, and all manner of mythical creatures giving safety briefings on Air New Zealand, our collective madness seems to have resurfaced.

Which got me to thinking if this really is Middle-earth who would play what characters?

In my doppelganger Tolkien world John Key would be Bilbo, slightly bored with life so he sets off on the adventure of being the prime minister, gets into all sorts of scrapes but miraculously survives through his ability to have a brain fade or slip on a ring and disappear overseas on prime ministerial duties.

David Shearer is a sitter for Gandalf, tall, mysterious, speaks in a way that not everyone understands and his supporters just have to trust that he has some idea of what the big picture is even though it's not readily apparent. Of course, Labour hopes he'll either die and go away or be reborn as a better improved white, rather than grey, wizard before the next election.

Kim Dotcom is clearly a dark rider, only ever wears black, sallies forth from his dark castle in Coatesville and wreaks havoc on his enemies. His sidekick? Hone Harawira.


For Smaug, the ageing dragon who sleeps in his lair only stirring to breathe fire on those who threaten his treasures, you can't go past Winston Peters. He is still capable of creating plenty of smoke with a well-aimed press release but is somehow lacking the old fire. What is he protecting? The baubles of office, of course.

Russel Norman and the Greens would make great elves. He is tall, from a foreign land, sees the world differently from everyone else and is surrounded by people who believe in alternative medicines. Oh yes, the Middle Earth world would be a cool and freaky place if the elfish greens were in charge.

Gollum is easy. Twisted, treacherous, obsessed with finding his precious ring at any cost, a pale shadow of a being that lives in the dark, shuns the media and couldn't lie straight in his bed at night. Sometimes aligned with the dark riders but only when it suits his purpose, stand up John Banks.

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples would be dwarfs. Small in stature and number yet quite capable of boxing above their weight, immersed in the old ways, fiercely proud of their traditions but all too ready to compromise if the honour and status of the dwarfs can be enhanced.

Goblins, trolls and orcs? Well, that's people like me, the evil media feeding off the misfortune of others picking over the carcasses of public misdeeds and creating chaos and controversy wherever we go.

There are some other similarities between Middle Earth and the Wellington region. While I'd hesitate to cast former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer as the dark Lord Sauron, he does seem pretty keen on having one lord mayor to rule them all (position vacant), one mayor to find them (Fran Wilde) one mayor to bring them all (Nick Leggett) and in the darkness bind them (Wayne Guppy, Jenny Kirk or Ray Wallace?)

But of course this isn't the world of Tolkien, is it. It's not like we believe there is a royal bloodline passed on from parent to firstborn that imbues the wearer of a crown with some special magical power.

We are a rational, secular democracy where the notion that by right of one's birth one can be better or more powerful than others is absolutely preposterous. This isn't the kind of place where commoners would take to the streets waving royal banners, bowing, scraping, curtseying and forelock-tugging as the royal carriage passes by.

If we were to look for real nobility in our corner of the world it would most likely be Sir Peter Jackson, Sir Richard Taylor and all those who have created a vibrant and successful industry at the bottom of the world.

Like it or not, the benefits, economic, cultural and morale-boosting, that accrue to this shire are real and palpable even if they are largely based on works of fantasy. For that our film-makers can rightly take a bow.

Happy hobbiting.

The Dominion Post