Minas Tirith: A Hobbit’s Pipe Dream?

In a day and age when we can literally visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, have tea with Alice, and experience a world made of giant Legos, it is not so surprising that fans of unrealized epics are turning to crowd funding to launch their dreams.

The scale of their dreams is, however, a little surprising.

Rather than building a theme park destination or creating a specialized hotel, a group of fans in the UK have undertaken a mission to build Minas Tirith, arguably the largest city in Tolkien’s writing (certainly the largest city of Men in the Third Age). The project made a splash across the internet, trending on social media sites and earning the attention of international newspapers. Despite all the attention, however, the IndieGoGo campaign has raised less than £100,000 (as of 8/17) ,which isn’t even 1% of the campaign’s £1,850,000,000 goal.

While the dream is possible, it seems extremely unlikely that it could succeed as a crowd-funded endeavor. The mass majority of the project’s contributors have donated £50 or less. Realistically, the mass majority of contributions on crowd-funding sites are less than $100, which is where the “crowd” part comes in. At that rate, about 37 million people would have to contribute in the next month for the project to succeed. However, fewer than 2,000 people have contributed thus far, even with the project’s sweeping media coverage.

Why aren’t more people donating?

All the crowds not funding.

It might have to do with the lack of details. Although the project’s IndieGoGo page is straight-forward, tidy, and eloquently phrased, there isn’t much information. This isn’t to say, however, that the project leaders haven’t done their planning. The page refers to monuments, plaques, and a highly organized residential system. But there are no details. Instead we have phrases like “a desire to challenge the common perception of community and architecture” and “a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

The project’s description also mentions residential and commercial properties. While the city’s income would obviously rely heavily on tourism, how would the tourist areas link to the residents’ homes? Imagine living in Disneyland. It sounds really great until you stop to think about it, especially if, as is suggested on the IndieGoGo page, you not only live there, but work there as well. Would all jobs be tourist-related? Would you be expected to literally role play 24/7 while trying to balance customer service with, well, your life? Would the city be self sufficient? Would people work in exchange for their homes, or would they be paid for their labor, which they could use to cover rent? If that’s the case, who would be paying them? What if someone wants to live, but not work in the city?

Building a city is hard because even fictional cities are more than architectural engineering. If people are going to literally live and work in Minas Tirith, then they have to understand who their leaders are, how general upkeep is funded, and who to call if the plumbing fails.

Bring in the plunger!

Another potential obstacle is the rebirth of the aristocracy. One of the perks for donating £100,000 is to be made a lord or lady of the city, complete with a carriage, a residence in the upper tiers of the city, and invitations to exclusive events. The nature of exclusive events is that they exclude, so the mass majority of the city’s residents would be left out. By giving (and having) more money than the rest, you are elevated literally and socially. This raises very serious questions, because such lords and ladies would also be part of the city’s Executive Committee. So not only do you enjoy special privileges because of your money, but you are given power over those with less in the bank.

Yikes.

You know you want to be a noble, Frodo…

Overall, the crowd-funding route looks a little too rocky to succeed. How else could Minas Tirith be funded? What if the dream team behind this project could wrangle commercial investors? Nothing’s impossible, but it would be difficult. Why? Well, for starters, that’s a lot of money. To put things in perspective, Peter Jackson’s film trilogy cost less than three hundred million dollars to make, and fans were willing to dish out about $3 billion to see Middle Earth come to life on screen. Minas Tirith would cost almost two-thirds of the trilogy’s profit. . Investors wouldn’t be inspired by the hopes of a return on their investment, because the city probably couldn’t make back that sum for a long time. While most people have access to a movie theater, not as many can afford to visit England. Sad, but true.

Smaller-scale Tolkien experiences, particularly hobbit hole hotels, have been built in several countries and appear to be doing well. Fantasy theme parks like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter have been a tremendous success, and Disney is busy teasing fans with concept art and rumors concerning a Star Wars park. It’s important to note that both of these parks are part of larger tourist attractions. Disney and Universal specialize in offering multiple parks in one, and they’d made phenomenal amounts of money by slowly adding one park at a time to their network of fantasy.

Hobbit Motel, New Zealand

This means there is hope for Minas Tirith, but probably not in the way the IndieGoGo campaign envisions. Neither, however, would Middle Earth have to be restricted to a single zone of a Disney park. A route to success could involve multiple private investors who have experience building and running Tolkien-esque tourist attractions. For instance, a theme park designer, a Renaissance Festival owner, and a themed hotel operator could pool their financial and intellectual resources.

Like Disney, they could invest in cheap land and build a single piece of Middle Earth at a time. The first piece wouldn’t be Minas Tirith. It would be something small, like Bree, which could conceivably be made by altering existing structures. Edoras would be an ambitious start, but also relatively simple as far as building materials were concerned (but location, location, location). Rivendell or Lothlorien would make good candidates for a second wave of building. They each involve some tricky architectural challenges, but neither has the demands of Minas Tirith and its tons upon tons of stone. Each new addition could possibly use crowd-funding to go the last leg of the race. This would keep the fans involved with the park while also luring in a lot of customers with donation perks for visits, specialty items, or personalized tours.

Find a good hill and you’re golden.

Nothing is impossible, especially in the age of crowd-funding, social media, and rich people who think building an exact replica of the Titanic is a good idea. If nothing else, the Realise Minas Tirith IndieGoGo campaign has sparked a lot of interest, even if it faces greater odds than Frodo carrying the Ring to Mount Doom. Perhaps the folks behind Realise Minas Tirith say it best themselves: “Please only donate within your means, and in the knowledge that this project is a light-hearted venture with virtually no chance of succeeding.”

So next year we probably won’t see the White City under construction. But there is always hope, even in the most modern of ages.

Our dream isn’t dead. It’s just deciduous. They said we’d never have a movie, either.

Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


 

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