August 6, 2021

Until 16 October this year, visitors to the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, which is operated by Hampshire Cultural Trust, will be able to view The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien related memorabilia in a new, family-friendly exhibition: The Magic of Middle-earth.

When he first published The Hobbit in 1937, the Oxford academic J.R.R. Tolkien was delighted that the initial print run of 1,500 copies sold out. But could he ever have believed that more than 80 years later his tale – set in the mythical land of Middle-earth – which was followed by one of the best-selling novels of all time, The Lord of the Rings, would have inspired and sustained a huge global industry?  

The exhibition is making its debut at Basingstoke’s Willis Museum, where collector and self-confessed uber-geek Matt Fox has assembled a treasure trove of over 200 objects – from movie memorabilia and LEGO sets to rare books and artworks – that reveal the enduring appeal of Tolkien’s creation.

Centred around the fantasy realm of Middle-earth, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings drew their readers into places that were both mythical and yet strangely familiar, as Fox explains: “Middle-earth is a seemingly living, breathing world that feels real, historical and has a powerful sense of the perpetual.”

Although regarded as the ‘father’ of modern fantasy literature, Tolkien’s cultural influence extends far beyond other writers. Middle-earth has inspired creative minds of all types and acted as a Minecraft-like toolbox for generations of artists, musicians, film makers, environmentalists and game designers.

Best known is Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy which won 17 Oscars – and 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first movie The Fellowship of The Ring. This year also sees Amazon making the finishing touches to their new Middle-earth TV series, reputed to be the highest budget show of all time.

Just as he did with his hit touring exhibition May The Toys Be With You (a tribute to all things Star Wars), Fox has again painstakingly researched and accumulated a vast collection of Middle-earth related items, all of which reflect the many and varied ways of interpreting the themes, characters, and settings of the books.

“I want to really transport visitors with this exhibition and allow those who enjoy immersing themselves in Middle-earth that indulgence. Beginning with rare first edition copies of the books, visitors will be able to see incredible artworks and objects from across the decades. These include paintings of dragons, ents and elves, dramatic models and dioramas, such as one recreating the epic Battle of Helm’s Deep, plus Middle-earth-inspired video games and toys. For me, it’s a feast for the imagination and I’m really happy to be able to share it with others.”

Tara McKinney Marinus, Visual Arts Exhibition Manager at Hampshire Cultural Trust, says, “We’re thrilled to be welcoming Matt back to the Willis Museum and to have the opportunity to be the opening venue for what promises to be a sensational show for fans of the books, the films and all things Tolkien. The incredible collection of objects that Matt has amassed will be an absolute joy for our visitors to see and is such a fun and innovative way of reinterpreting Tolkien’s iconic books and the effect they have had on their readers.”

The Willis Museum and Sainsbury Gallery is operated by Hampshire Cultural Trust, an independent charity set up in 2014 to promote Hampshire as a county that offers outstanding cultural experiences to both its residents and visitors.   

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