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TMCNet:  'Hobbit' release captivates Wheaton College fans

[December 17, 2012]

'Hobbit' release captivates Wheaton College fans

Dec 17, 2012 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- It's a blockbuster fantasy tale that handily topped the box office during its first weekend in theaters, but "The Hobbit" has deeper meanings for its fans on the Wheaton College campus.

For one thing, the man who wrote the book inspiring the three-part film series. J.R.R. Tolkien, is enshrined at a small museum on the campus.

A desk used by Tolkien purchased for him by his wife, Edith, in 1927, in addition to original manuscripts, letters and a fountain pen are encased for public viewing at the campus' Marion E. Wade Center.

And right now, in honor of the book's 75th anniversary, the museum has a special exhibit featuring a large-scale map that tracks the journey of the Hobbit's protagonist, Bilbo Baggins. A binder of letters written by school children to characters in the book is also included, in addition to artwork by Tolkien.

But more than the artifacts, the college also boasts a lively group of fans of the Tolkien's work. Last year, Wade Center Archivist Laura Schmidt helped initiate the Tolkien Society, now made up of about 40 students, who gather to discuss the works of Tolkien and aim to create fellowship and friendships between the facets of the campus community.

In honor of the Hobbit's release, society members worked to reserve a theater in Warrenville, meant only for Wheaton College fans.

They packed the place on Friday night, with 427 tickets sold to Wheaton College students, staff and faculty members, said Schmidt.

"The atmosphere was electric. There were shouts, clapping, laughter and audible noises of astonishment at all the right spots," Schmidt said via email. "The Wheaton College family got to experience this as a community. It was fantastic." While the movie thrilled its biggest fans, throughout the year the Tolkien Society also focuses on the deeper topics highlighted in Tolkien's works, said Kaitlyn Campbell, treasurer of the society and senior at the college.

Some of themes in his works, like the self-sacrifice, loyalty and serving a higher cause that's illustrated in "The Hobbit," resonate with her and have inspired courses on the campus. Last year, Campbell said she took on a class on Tolkien theology.

'It's one of those classic stories that has so many deep themes that almost anyone can relate to. Tolkien just presents it in such a wonderful world and it just captures our attention," Campbell said.

Still, like watching the movies together, there's room for more fun among the society members. On Friday on the campus, a group of more than a dozen students and instructors, gathered to play a game of "golfimbul," or a derivative of a golf-like game described in "The Hobbit." And the group can look forward to more fun. The movie released last week is only one of a three-part series of the epic fantasy-adventure. The other two are expected to be released in 2013 and 2014. ___ (c)2012 the Chicago Tribune Visit the Chicago Tribune at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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