Ringer Staffer Arwen sends us her report from the Los Angeles celebration of Bilbo’s Birthday!:

September 22, 2002. On what turned out to be one of the hottest days in Shire history, a group of approximately 100 citizens of Middle Earth (LA Ringers in the Common Speech) gathered in a little known enclave of Griffith Park called The Shire. Hobbits, elves, wizards and men had all come together to celebrate the birthday of their dear friends Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Rumor had it that it was to be a party of such special magnificence that King Elessar and Queen Arwen themselves were traveling all the way from the realms of Gondor to attend (a rumor that proved indeed to be true).

Preparations began as early as 9:30am, as I arrived in Bag End and started to hang up decorations while trying to keep at bay the occasional goblin intruders. My nice streamers and banners unfortunately did not survive past noon, as a much welcome but quite destructive breeze kept blowing through the trees. I was soon joined by Sarumann and his new roommate who happily helped setting up. Not long afterwards, Calisuri arrived with a cartload of goodies — giveaway prizes generously donated by SideShow Weta, Games Workshop and Houghton Mifflin, not to mention a hundred “mathoms” all personally hand wrapped by Calisuri over the course of the previous nights. Last but not least, he was also bringing our most beloved treasure: a beautiful “Happy Birthday Bilbo Baggins” sign, entirely handmade, an almost exact replica of the one in the movie. Needless to say, we were thrilled and amazed. Calisuri is so talented, so dedicated, and most of all such a wonderful person. He is my personal hero.

After hanging the sign, we headed out to nearby Glendale to pick up the birthday cake. This little trip took us much longer than anticipated, as the bakery was incredibly busy at that time of the day. The cake was beautiful though, and totally worth the wait. We dropped it in the coolness of my refrigerator (it would not have survived the heat down there at Bag End all afternoon) and headed back to the picnic grounds.

In the meantime, party guests had begun to arrive, braving the sun and the uphill hike to the site. Food and drinks of all kinds started piling up on the picnic tables. Strangers from distant lands and friends of old gathered on picnic blankets in the shade of the lovely trees. Hardcore trading card gamers began playing a round of cards, while hobbits and elves alike happily picked up their mathom. Meanwhile, the Bag End Coach had started its rounds. For almost three hours without a break, Sarumann drove up and down the hill, picking up guests (and everything they were bringing) and dropping them up at the picnic site. I know his Tolkien namesake turned to the Shadow eventually, but our very own Sarumann is the nicest, most generous and high-spirited of all Istari. Another personal hero.

We had several contests scheduled for the afternoon, but the most unexpected one turned out to be “Best Yellow Jacket Slayer”. Unfortunately at that time of the year, these nasty stingers are quite common in the park. We had set up traps earlier on, but this proved quite ineffective as soon as we started unwrapping the food… and before nightfall, the hill was swarming with these earthly equivalent to orcs! Our very own Quickbeam was definitely the fiercest Slayer, mercilessly squashing insects to the cry of “Go back to the Shadow!”; yellow jackets flew from his wrath, stunned by his magnificence. Alas, the armies of Mordor are countless, and more of the flying pests kept invading the food area. But as we all know, hobbits really are amazing creatures, and could never be kept away from any source of food, should Ringwraiths themselves block their path. Everyone filled their plates and cups and began eating and drinking regardless of the bugs. And did I mention we were protected by the Grey Wizard anyway? How else do you explain that nobody got stung?

Their stomachs full and their thirst quenched, partygoers gathered around TORn’s table as the Trivia Contest began, handled by Master of Ceremonies Quickbeam with his trademark mix of eloquence, wit, humor and charm (yes, he’s my hero too — I happen to have many heroes!). Lots of wonderful prizes were won, Houghton Mifflin books and SideShow Weta collectibles. This first contest ended on a very high note, as suddenly Quickbeam pointed to the top of the hill and announced: “Gandalf has arrived!”. Sure enough, standing tall and leaning on his staff, came the Grey —or in this case, Blue– Wizard himself, an eerie and magical vision straight out of the Shire.

Throughout the afternoon we made several attempts to cook some barbecue, but unfortunately the BBQ pits in the nearby “Mines Of Moria” had been claimed by various bands of Easterlings who never relinquished the grills to us, once more demonstrating beyond any doubt the evil nature inherent to their kind. Thankfully, there was no lack of food at the picnic tables, including a hearty “Pippin’s Pasta Salad” (tomatoes, sausages, nice crispy bacon), and no one went home hungry.

Our second contest was “Best Impersonation Of a Character From The Movie”. A large number of contestants lined up to try their luck. This was positively a hoot! All participants delivered wonderful performances and it was very difficult for the judges (Quickbeam, Saruman, Garfeiamo and your humble servant, Arwen) to select only three winners. We ended up giving consolation prizes, as there was way too much talent there to go unrewarded. Number one prize went to a brilliant lad who acted the entire scene between Aragorn and Arwen (before the Nazgul chase) all in Elvish. Quite impressive! My own personal favorites were the two ladies who played Aragorn and Frodo in the boats at the Argonath, mimicking the two Pillars of the Kings at the end of their skit! All of the contestants demonstrated a lot of creativity and humor, and were praised for their efforts.

At that point Sarumann and myself headed out to my place to pick up the cake, therefore missing the Ring Hunt. I understand it was a lot of fun, but it didn’t take more than ten minutes for the Ring to be found… (after all, the Ring of Power has a will of its own).

I carried the cake all the way up the hill, dragging my feet (the heat and excitement of the day were starting to take their toll). By that time it was almost 6pm and some guests had begun to head back to their hobbit holes. Our cake looked a lot like the one in the movie and was almost as big! Not surprisingly, the remaining guests lined up to grab a slice, and the cake vanished quicker than you can say, “Don’t tempt me, Frodo!”.

Temperature was cooling down, orc-like yellow jackets had deserted the area, and everyone was still hanging out, enjoying the party and each other’s company. We had one SideShow Weta collectible left (a gorgeous statue of Gandalf) and since so many guests had showed up in costume, we decided to throw an impromptu Costume Contest. Debbie (Primmy from the LOTR Fan Club boards) read Bilbo’s birthday speech for us, and with that the contest began. Master Calisuri was the almighty judge, and the prize was awarded to none other than the Grey… hmmm… Blue Wizard himself.

Darkness started creeping in, and while we all wished we could hang out a little longer, it was time to wrap up. Quickbeam gave me a ride down to my car on his moped (quite an adventure in itself!). We all felt happy and contented, as things had gone so well and everyone had such a great time. Coming back to the picnic grounds to pickup my stuff, I found the entire area pitch black and silent, except for the crickets and the nightly sounds of the park. Looking down to the lawn, I thought I caught a glimpse of a group of elves dancing on the grass in the moonlight, and I heard their soft voices singing to Bilbo and Frodo. Or maybe I dreamed it?…