Tolkien's Shire appears as a coherent ecosystem, cradled by productive fields and populated by abundant orchards, caches of edible mushroom, and even the fishable Bywater Pool, ornamented with an authentic churning mill. The land at Hobbiton is changing still: Jackson's crowning oak tree now sits in sun-scarred pieces behind a rotten wooden fence at the termination of Bagshot Row, a home for the welcome swallows that course through air above. In the pastures opposite Bag End, a leash of the chicken-like spur-winged plovers, invasive colonizers of open farmlands, cluck at one another as they forage for invertebrates. Black swans laze on the Bywater's shore. Here the lineal connection to Wordsworth's "wild secluded" Tintern Abbey is apparent. The Shire is a concentrated, organic product of natural history, human intervention, and imagination--not just a relic of the film set but a mythopoetic land narrative adapted from book to earth to film to earth again, all in a mere seventy years.
Yes, it's what it looks like: a meditation on the mythohistoricoscientificowhatsit subtext of transforming a New Zealand landscape into the movie-set incarnation of a complete but fictional ecosystem dreamed up by an Oxford don "who wrote in the spirit of, and occupied the same haut monde as [Darwin and Wallace]." It's like an essay made of chocolate mousse, if that makes any sense at all: I completely overindulged, I don't know that it's really agreeing with me, but I'd totally read it again.
PS: I am now told that Forbes has an article calculating Smaug's wealth. What is going on out there???
*I got an emailed question about how to read the triplecanopy article. You have to hit the + button at the far right of the screen to cause the article to scroll across the screen. It's a multimedia web publishing format. If the + button doesn't appear and the -> key doesn't work, I can't help you.