Yesterday, the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts held a Middle-earth Day, encouraging guests to dress up as their favourite character and participate in various crafts and activities. I had visited the museum many years ago on a school field trip, and was eager for a chance to return. So I enlisted my boyfriend and a mutual friend of ours to go on this trip with me.
Upon entering the museum, I immediately caught a glimpse of Gandalf the Grey exiting the elevator and greeting the newest arrivals, many of whom were carrying small shields and waving little plastic swords in the air.
We got our tickets and a map of the museum, as well as a Middle-earth Scavenger Hunt checklist, in which children were encouraged to check out each of the exhibits and try to locate various weapons or armour from the Lord of the Rings films. It was an exciting way to associate soldiers in Tolkien’s Middle-earth with soldiers from earlier eras in our world.
When I reached the second floor, a loud, angry voice hollered at me: “YOU! I want YOU to join my army!” Stepping through the doorway, I saw Saruman the White waving his staff at me. My two companions backed up a bit and gently nudged me forward. “You would make a great addition to my evil army,” Saruman said, beckoning me towards a table set up with bowls of white, non-toxic face paint. He instructed one of my companions to dab his hand with the paint and “mark” me.
In one of the rooms, a table was set up for children to make their own shields. Another room, the Castle Quest room, was an interactive area in which children could play a medieval take on the classic game of Battleship, try on chainmail armour, participate in a supersized game of chess, or put on a puppet show for their friends and family.
We proceeded to the third floor, where most of the Middle-earth events were taking place: in the centre of the room, about a dozen or so small children, accompanied by their parents, were sitting around “Professor Tolkien” as he read to them from The Hobbit (the particular passage being “Roast Mutton”).
To our left was the crafting table, where children could make their own chainmail pendants. In the corner of the room, several Elf-maidens were gathered in conversation, while Strider stood against one of the fourth-floor pillars, looking down on the scenes below as he smoked from his pipe. Suddenly there was a commotion, and I turned around to see Saruman exiting the elevator as Gandalf was waiting to enter. Saruman called to his Uruk-hai soldier, while Gandalf rallied all the children to his side to help him fight off the evil wizard.
As we were leaving, I made sure to get a few photos with several of the staff members – especially Gandalf, who was at first hesitant to get close to an ally of Saruman’s (his opinion of me quickly changed once I told him I was merely an infiltrator).
There were a few events that we missed: the Hobbit Sing-a-long and the Arms of Middle-earth Workshop, for instance; but for me, the most exciting part of the event was just watching all the kids run around reciting lines from The Lord of the Rings films. It was a fantastic way to bring parents and their children closer together via their love of Middle-earth, and the staff (all of whom dressed up like Tolkien characters) did a fantastic job bringing Middle-earth to life for a day.
The Higgins Armory Museum is a great place to bring children: the prices are reasonable, the museum informative and exciting but not too overwhelming, and they host a variety of regularly scheduled events (such as Academy of the Sword classes) as well as special occasions (among them the Festival of Ale, Star Wars Day, and Viking Day).