Travels inspired by the Wombles

Monday, 10 December 2012

In a hole in the ground there lived a... Womble?

You may have noticed that they've made a film of JRR Tolkien's classic tale The Hobbit.  Well, they've actually made (or are making, I'm not sure which) three films out of it. It's not a long book, so that seems excessive - and reminiscent of Elaine Stitch's comment on Just a Minute about Kenneth Williams' JaM technique - 'He makes one word into a three act play.'

Anyway - the first film of the trilogy is out soon and I'm looking forward to seeing it, partly because it's an adaptation of a book I haven't read in a long time - such a long time, in fact, that I had no idea of a Womble connection...

But there it is, on the second page of Chapter 1 in my wife's 1979 paperback edition, as the narrator introduces us to Bilbo Baggins' mother, Belladonna Took, from a family of Tooks who had adventures and

'were not as respectable as the Baggins... Not that Belladonna Took ever had any adventures after she became Mrs Bungo Baggins.  Bungo, that was Bilbo's father, built the most luxurious hobbit-hole for her (and partly with her money) that was to be found either under The Hill or over The Hill or across The Water...'

Hang on! Just a moment... did he say Bungo Baggins?

Yes, he did. The narrative describes Bungo as 'solid and comfortable' - a notable contrast to Bungo Womble, who is chided by Great Uncle Bulgaria for such a silly choice of name from the Womble atlas.  I haven't had a chance to re-read the rest of The Hobbit to see if Bungo Baggins is mentioned again.

But here, if you'll forgive the irritating phrase, is a thing. When I interviewed Elisabeth Beresford for Journeys from Wimbledon Common, and asked her about the origins of the various names for the different Wombles, she told me that - unlike other names which came from places with definite family connections - Bungo came straight out of the Robertson/Beresford family atlas.  Life had, it seemed, imitated art. But hobbits live underground - like Wombles - and are heroic and lovely - like Wombles.  Is there a chance that - even if only subconsciously - Elisabeth Beresford got the name Bungo from Tolkien?

If so, then two thoughts occur:

1. Perhaps she dreamed it. In which case my never-yet-realised ambition to write a book about JRR and his influences, entitled Tolkein in their Sleep, may yet come to fruition.

2. The location filming for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit took place in New Zealand.  I've been to two UK Wellingtons, but not the New Zealand city of that name. Even if it's a bit tenuous, the Bungo connection gives me another reason to visit New Zealand. All I need is some money. Now where do you get money...?

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