And why I expect far more from it.
Ok so there is a background to this post. I grew up in Moseley, Birmingham – Tolkien’s Birmingham. This is the real Middle Earth where the bog and the trees, the mill and the towers inspired some of his world. Each year the Middle Earth Weekend takes place in the heart of Tolkien’s Birmingham and promises a medieval delve into the costumes, crafts and tales from the world of Lord Of the Rings. Sounds like a winner huh?
Well yes, and so it used to be. In previous years I have attended the festival and seen craft stalls, story re-enactments and readings, sword-fighting and demonstrations, puppetry, gaming, costumes, archery, a train ride, walking tours, a full scale farmers market with stalls selling local produce and organic foods, beer tents and the list goes on. You get the picture. We are talking a weekend of entertainment and appreciation on a spring weekend surrounded by greenery and enthusiasm.
Last year for personal reasons I boycotted the festival. In short, a local children’s entertainment company that ran a successful and popular stall at Middle Earth Weekend 2010 found themselves being refused a stall by the committee for the 2011 festival. The reason cited was lack of space. Given the size of the site and the more than ample volume of green space that is always unused at the festival, it was clearly a political decision and that is something I cannot get on board with. So after a run of several years enjoying Middle Earth Weekend, in 2011 they disappointed me.
This year I was passing right by the site, having gone home to visit my parents, so I decided to see what was happening. I walked around the same old craft stalls, looked at the artwork, saw readings were taking place and found a cramped marquee with some children’s activities taking place. The archery was still there and there were visitors dressed up, though not as many as usual and I was disappointed not to see the Nazguls on the move this time. The farmer’s market and beer tents were curiously absent and the whole affair had shrunk again this year leaving even more unused space at the Sarehole Mill site. I stopped to watch the mummers for a while and then, disappointed at the general scale and atmosphere, I called it a day.
Tolkien’s legacy is appreciated worldwide. Undisputable fact. His popularity has not waned. Again fact. Yet what could be an incredibly popular annual festival that has potential to attract visitors from across the country and bring revenue into local businesses is, for whatever reason the committee deems fit, suppressed into a very local, ever decreasing in size affair. I cannot think of a single good reason why this is not opened up to become a regular national attraction. People love Tolkien. I love Tolkien. And yet again this year the Middle Earth Weekend felt more like a local pagan wedding on the village green than a celebration of a huge part of our culture.
I would dearly love to see a far bigger, far more embracing Middle Earth Weekend in 2013 and I hope that the organisers will realise the potential of this event and next year do something bigger, better, and dare to invite some new exhibitors and visitors into the mix. It’s not that often that I go on a real rant about something, but this genuinely disappoints me, because it is just a waste of potential.