|I found myself standing by a snowy lamppost, just like Lucy.|
My brother still teases me about the day he discovered me curled up on the floor of my mother's wardrobe, sobbing because I couldn't get into Narnia. I must have been about seven years old at the time and I was convinced that Aslan's magical world existed somewhere beyond my line of sight; I knew I just needed to find the portal that would take me there. Alas it was not my mother's wardrobe!
In fact I had to wait until I was in my mid-thirties before I discovered such a portal, which was a very special exhibition held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It was back in 2008 that the Weta exhibition of weapons, props and costumes from popular magical films came to Yorkshire. Of course I went. There was never any question of that; but I wasn't expecting it to be quite so magical and realistic. I expected museum type displays and although everything was safely locked in glass cabinets, the curators had gone to a lot of trouble to create just the right atmosphere for the films they were recreating. Far from simply handing in a ticket and being shown around, guests were allowed to wander freely through the enchanted spaces that had been created. I was utterly mesmerized by the whole experience.
To begin with, the entrance to the exhibition had been set up as a large wardrobe; hanging on a rail were the fur coats the children wore in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I could hardly contain my excitement; this was something I had longed to do from a very young age...I pushed my way through the soft fur of the coats only to feel the spiky branches of fake fir trees taking their place. Pushing through the trees, I stepped into Narnia. There before me was the Lamppost! Lighting and projection made it seems as if it was snowing; set design made the exhibits wintry; the Narnia soundtrack was playing softly adding to the magical atmosphere...and there, just beyond the Lamppost stood Mr Tumnus with his snowy umbrella held aloft and his arms full of parcels, looking for all the world as if he had been Christmas shopping! I had tears in my eyes at that point...I had finally found my way in!
All the props from the films were there; the White Queen's chariot; the centaurs and Minotaur; the gifts the children received from Father Christmas, Peter's sword and shield, Susan's bow, arrows and horn, Lucy's magical medicine. My favorite item was the White Queen's wand as it was an intricate work of filigree, looking like it was indeed crafted from an icicle. It is a shame that you cannot see the true beauty of it in the film. And of course, there was Aslan at the entrance to his grand pavilion, looking regal and powerful. If he hadn't been behind the glass, I swear I would have kissed him! He was the finale of the Narnia exhibit but this was by no means the end.
As the fake snow underfoot gave way to crisp golden leaves two tall silvery white trees created an elaborate archway. The music changed and two steps later I was in Lothlorian and surrounded by the Elves from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy with the soundtrack drawing me in even further. Here were the beautiful, intricate weapons of the Fellowship; Frodo's Orc-blue sword Sting; Anduril and Glamdring the swords of Arragorn and Gandalf respectively; Borromir's shield and two horns, one whole, one cut in two. Here also was an area set up as the Court of Rohan with horse flags and banners hung behind the throne. Everything here was carved with horses heads - it was a pony girl's dream setting. The bad guys were represented too, with Sauron's helm, Saruman's Staff, goblins and Orcs galore...facing a life sized Orc waxwork (not behind the glass but just stood free!) was enough to make me slightly nervous...big, scary dood! Each realm of Middle Earth had its props all set out, but my favorite part was Rohan and Lothlorian...those exhibits set my girly heart racing for here was magic and beauty combined.
It really was one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen. There is something enchanting about seeing the items that have gone into making a series of films so very special. We were not allowed to take photos and they hadn't put together a souvenir brochure which was a shame, but I do have very fond memories of the day I went to Narnia and Middle Earth. I don't know if it is still touring, or if it will ever tour the UK again...but if it does it is well worth a visit...you can bet your life that I will be pushing through the fur coats into Narnia once more if I ever get the chance.