What started out as a class assignment for Maddie Chambers became a nearly yearlong obsession. Now that the 30-year-old British woman's project is mostly finished, her work has drawn admirers from Brazil to the Netherlands to Spain and has even prompted a few to propose marriage.
Chambers has painstakingly created a miniature version of Bag End, Bilbo Baggins' house from "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings"--from the round front door and porthole windows, right down to the Middle-earth maps and the barrel of pipe-weed inside.
It's clear Chambers is a J.R.R. Tolkien fan. What isn't clear is when she sleeps. Chambers, the mother of young twin boys, started the project in March 2009 when she was taking a college course on child care. The unit was on "the importance of play." The assignment? Create a toy by term's end. Chambers, who lives in Chesterfield, England, set to work on the Hobbit hole in the evenings after her boys went to bed. Other times, she would turn to it while the toddlers napped.
Chambers based the dollhouse, roughly 3-foot-square, partly on Tolkien's stories and Peter Jackson's big-screen adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings." Her imagination filled in the rest.
"The Hobbit" first hooked her when she was about 10. About a year later, she tackled "The Lord of the Rings." Tolkien created a world that she wanted to live in, populating it with elves, dwarves, and dragons, Chambers said in a recent e-mail. (She has read "Lord of the Rings" about 20 times over the years.)
"I longed to go on the adventures with the Hobbits and I literally imagined every single step they took and pictured myself there too," Chambers said.
At first, Chambers thought she'd make a hill with a front door a la Bag End using bits of scenery like foam and static grass from Warhammer, a tabletop game she used to play. Then she thought, why not add a removable roof? How about a room? Before long, she was drawing up plans for something even more ambitious.
Her live-in partner, Graham, showed her how to use power tools and didn't mind that her project took over their dining room table for months and months. Along the way, she acquired many skills, including carpentry, electric wiring, flooring, and grouting. But, Chambers writes on her blog, she's not sure she could apply them on a grand scale--human, instead of Hobbit.
A self-described "crafty" geek girl, Chambers didn't have to go too far to find some of her materials. Nails and wire make the perfect fence for a vegetable patch. Beads stand in as miniature bottles. Pieces of material from jumpsuits her twin boys outgrew have become bathroom towels. Axes hanging on a bedroom wall come courtesy of her Gimli doll. Stones from her own garden mark the path leading to the front door. Some furniture she bought unfinished and then varnished. Other pieces she customized or made herself. As Chambers puts it on her blog, "Superglue is my friend."
One of the few things you won't find in the house is little folk with hairy feet. Chambers once took drawing classes but decided she couldn't make her subject's faces expressive enough to suit her. So the Hobbit hole remains Hobbit-less, save for a mini statue of Frodo and Sam made from Warhammer models.
The dollhouse now sits on a computer table in the smallest bedroom of the house. The pair keeps the door closed to keep out their two cats, which try to jump into the diminutive dwelling when given the chance. Chambers says she's considering selling it to make room for more projects, the next of which is a 1/24th-scale version of the Middle-earth inn "The Prancing Pony." But after all the work she's put in, the offer would have to be very good. "I would be sad to see it go."
If Chambers' amazing feat is making you, dear readers, feel a bit lazy, you might consider cutting back on second breakfast and eliminating elevenses altogether.