J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit require little introduction on my part. His Middle-earth legendarium belongs to the foundational canon of Western fantasy literature; you cannot throw an axe in the SFF section of a bookstore or library without hitting something with Tolkien-esque elves, orcs, or “medieval fantasy” quest vibes. And of course, while Tolkien has always been read by the nerds and geeks of America, the famous Peter Jackson film adaptations have revived widespread interest in his works and brought the Baggins’ adventures into the international, multigenerational mainstream imagination for the 21st century.

I have designed this party guide with The Lord of the Rings (LotR) primarily in mind, as this epic provides a great deal of inspirational source material for Tolkien’s more familiar or popular stories, but many of the activities, decorations, and foods would also support The Hobbit. I am sure many of the items would apply to a The Silmarillion party as well, but as I am only loosely familiar with that work and the popularity of LotR and The Hobbit make them easier party subjects, I have not offered specific ideas for it. As one of those people who adores The Hobbit and the ideas of Middle-earth but is still only halfway through reading The Two Towers, I would like to give a big thank you to my friend and Tolkien expert Emily Lowman (who may be getting this party for her birthday) for helping me check my literary references.

Now, let’s get on with the adventure!

lotr_ballantine_second_edition
Cover art for Ballantine’s 2nd edition of The Hobbit & LotR.

Invitations:

As always, encourage guests to dress up and include any information about your party activities that would be relevant to guests’ participation and preparation. For example, if you plan to have the party outdoors or want to have games that require physical activity, let guests know so that they can prepare whatever they need to be safe and comfortable—running shoes, sunscreen, inhalers, allergy medication, etc.—as they enjoy your party. You should also let guests know if your party includes activities that are centered on alcohol (as this guide does) so that guests who do not drink can plan accordingly or feel comfortable contacting you to ask about alternative beverages or activities.

Decorations:

A pipe and pouch of Old Toby: Hobbits smoke tobacco, but stuff the pouch with dry leaves from outside or dry corn husks.

Antique-looking maps

Arrow decorations: These are all the rage in hipster shops.

Banners: If you are able, cut emblems like Saruman’s White Hand, the horse of Rohan, and the white tree of Gondor out of felt and stitch them to long pieces of fabric in the factions’ colors. Hang these banners from the wall using thumbtacks or sticky putty, drape them over a curtain rod, or attach them to a clothesline or horizontal flag pole. If fabric and felt are too expensive or cutting and sewing emblems is too advanced, draw the emblems on large sheets of bulletin board paper or cheap plastic tablecloths. You can hang these like the banners or use them to cover tables.

Barrels

Burlap

Candles, lanterns, bonfire: Soft light from candles, festive hanging lights, or a fire in the hearth or contained fire pit will help give your party that “old school” fantasy feeling. How you use them depends on whether you’ve got indoor or outdoor space and how well you’re able to manage fires, but small electric party lanterns in natural colors or battery-powered candles with a fake flicker should be safe in any environment. For real fire, poured candles with deep, wide-based, high-rimmed bowls, and low wicks present the least danger of tipping over or catching loose clothing.

Costume or toy medieval weapons like swords, axes, and bows

Cotton webbing and toy spiders

Crystals

Drapes: Hang curtains or cloth drapes in doorways to help define what rooms are available to guests as part of the party and which spaces are off-limits. A single flat sheet in front of a closed door should clearly indicate “no entry,” whereas drapes that are tied off to the side of an open door or entryway will invite guests ahead. Use fabrics like satin and velvet and rich  colors like satin, velvet, black, forest or emerald green, wine or ruby red, and royal blue. You can also pin clever signs to the drapes to ensure guests understand where they can go and where things are.

Drinking vessels: Goblets, pewter tankards, ceramic mugs, wooden cups, leather flagons, and metal flasks. While not all of these are easily available, you may be able to cobble together a full party set from mismatched pieces if you want to use them, or you can simply display them. Plastic party goblets may be found with medieval-themed party supplies.

Eagle statue

Embroidered runners or tablecloths

Fake bones and skulls

Faux vine or flower garlands

Gray wizard’s hat

Harp

Horse statues: Use elegant statues made of stone, metal, ceramic, wood, glass, etc., rather than plastic toys or collectibles to fit LotR’s mood as an epic tale.

Knight figurines

Large books: Preferably antique leather-bound books or fancy, colorful leather-like journals.

Leaf-themed decorations: Leaves are popular motifs for serving bowls, disposable dishes, decorations, blankets, and wall-hangings, so try incorporating them in your utensils or decorations.

Light-colored wooden ship

Live flowers and ferns: Rather than cut flowers in vases, arrange planters and pots on tables or in spaces where they will not be knocked over. Invite guests to take a plant home with them at the end of the party and be prepared to plant any that remain outside or take care of them indoors.

Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit film or art posters

Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit merchandise, figures, replicas

Medieval-themed party decorations or play pieces

Natural décor: This sounds pretty broad, but “natural” and “rustic” décor is very in right now, so you should be able to find some decorations in the home goods department or with seasonal decorating supplies. Consider using evergreen garlands, piles of pinecones, those odd moss or wicker balls you put in vases, and bird or animal decorations.

Old coins

Ornate crowns

Pewter housewares: Platters, candlesticks, bowls.

Pillows: Use large pillows with soft, earthy patterns and colors or decorative pillows with rich colors, medieval patterns, and intricate embroidery to provide extra seating on the floor or add some of the fantasy aesthetic to your furniture.

Quill and inkwell

Rings: You’ll want enough of these for all of the rings of power in the series. Display them on cushions or a tray covered with velvet or satin.

Rugs: Use rugs in rich colors with elaborate patterns or those with leafy, flowery designs.

Seashells

Smooth, pretty river or ocean stones

Stone or wooden sculptures

Sturdy green fabric

Tumbled or raw minerals and stones

Wooden walking sticks or staves

 

Advanced Decorations:

The Longest Journey: Usually I suggest craft projects in the “Advanced Decorations” section, but for The Lord of the Rings I’m going to suggest an advanced method for decorating your entire space. Rather than using the decorations listed above throughout the space you have for your party, consider dedicating a room to each Middle-earth culture/race. For example, depending on your party location, you may have room for “Mirkwood,” “Rivendell,” and “Lothlórien,” or you may simply have a room for the Elven lands and cultures. You could have “Erebor” and “The Mines of Moria” or simply a room for the Dwarves, and you could have “Rohan” and “Gondor” or a room for the kingdoms of men.

What you do will depend on the size of your space, the number of rooms you have, and the decorations you are able to gather, so consider your limitations before you start planning. I suggest prioritizing your favorite places or the ones you can most easily evoke using the materials you already have or materials that will be easy on your budget. It may be difficult, for example, to make a room obviously Moria unless you intend to erect a coffin in the middle of the floor and surround it with armored skeletons. Consider using banners in each room to indicate what the space is meant to be if you create specific locations or else include “in characters” signs or references that would make the location’s cultural association obvious. Put up paper murals depicting faces in trees or trees walking for an Ent room, and add orcs and a white wizard staff for Isengard in the middle of the march of the Ents. As another example, you might dedicate a room to the kingdoms of men by filling it with traditional “medieval European” party decorations and then split the room into Rohan and Gondor by putting horse images and paraphernalia under a “Rohan” banner on one side and placing a large silver tree, a horn, and a crown on the other under “Gondor.” Obviously, the food table should be in the Hobbits’ room.

 

Mobiles: This may sound like an odd party decoration, but mobiles can add movement, color, and even gentle sounds to your party environment. They can hang as centerpieces over buffet tables, or as an impressive, unusual decoration in main gathering areas to spark conversation among guests. They are also versatile decorations that you can adapt for specific parts of the story or Middle-earth if you make your own or shop from artists. Mobiles made from natural or earth-tone materials like wood, feathers, seeds, stones, fiber, plants, or ceramics, for example, will evoke the forest and elves of Mirkwood, while mobiles with stones, shells, rich fabrics, crystals, leaves, metal chimes, and gold and silver threads will more likely remind people of Rivendell or Lothlorien. Heavier metals, gold ornaments, jewelry chains, colored glass cut like gemstones, beads, leather, or embroidered ribbons in rich colors would make me think of the dwarves; and mobiles made with wood, cotton or wool fabrics, green leaves, golden buttons, acorns, parchment, and gentle earthy colors would make me think of hobbits. You could also design a mobile based on a specific, memorable event in the story, or one that evokes the whole series. If you use a unique mobile, consider connecting it to a small activity in which guests try to guess what the mobile represents or vote on the best title for the mobile for a small prize.

 

unexpected-cookbook
An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery

Food:

Apple pie

Biscuits: Take this to mean British cookies or American biscuits, it’s honestly fine, hobbits are down for both.

Blackberry tart

Cheese platter: I almost always insist on including a cheese platter because they’re popular and easy to put together. For Lord of the Rings, offer a selection of traditional hard cheeses, popular British varieties, and simple, comfort food cheeses. Include grainy crackers, a savory chutney or spicy, seeded mustard, and slices of cured or dry sausage or salami.

Chocolate gold coins

Dark chocolate cake: You may think this is for the elves, because it is rich and decadent, or for the hobbits, because it is fairly modern and a special delicacy for celebrations. You might even think it is for the men, because this would be majestic kings’ fare. You would be wrong, because this is for the dwarves. The dwarves don’t get enough special attention, and this cake is rich and decadent as gold and as dark as caverns old and not too sugary but sweet and earthy. Add a bit of coffee flavor to the batter or icing for hardy adventurers and miners and top with cookie crumbles and small gold-colored sprinkles or sugar crystals for rocks and gold.

Dried fruits

Fresh fruit, sliced or chopped into finger food sizes

Fresh vegetables, sliced or chopped into finger food sizes

Fried eggs and bacon

Fried or grilled fish

Fruit breads: Apple bread, pumpkin bread, oat and raisin bread, etc., something appropriate for elevenses.

Fruit tart

Hearty, crusted bread: Serve with jam or butter.

Hummus: Surprised to see this here? People are going to need something to dip those vegetables in, and if Middle-earth had hummus, you know elves would be all over it. They would be hummus fiends. Serve with pita chips, too.

Lamb, baked or roasted

Meat pie

Mushroom soup

Porridge: Unless you are having a brunch party, this may not be the most exciting dish to serve at your fete. If you do have a brunch party, make sure to offer plenty of toppings like chopped fruit, berries, syrup, and spices for guests to customize their bowls.

Potatoes: Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew.

Roasted, toasted, salted, or candied nuts

Rock candy: Because the dwarves deserve more special attention.

Salad: Elves, man. Go for seasonal greens and add dried fruits, candied or roasted nuts, cheese, croutons, and other vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, or onions to your taste. Keep dressing on the side so guests can add their own. Since salad is a mixed food item and the ingredients are not always identifiable in shreds or small pieces, place a card nearby that explains the ingredients for guests with allergies or food restrictions.

Sandwiches

Stew: Make this in a crockpot to serve a large crowd and keep warm throughout the party. Beef stew with root vegetables seems like an obvious choice, but you can also make a vegetable stew for the vegetarians at your party.

Vegetables, seasoned and roasted

Venison: Game isn’t often sold in grocery stores, and most stores don’t stock farm-raised venison. However, you can buy venison online or directly from certain farms. If you have a friend who hunts and keeps the meat, consider purchasing some from them or asking them to bring a venison dish when they come to the party if you think they would enjoy doing so.

Advanced Food: Carbs, carbs everywhere! Carbs for a lengthy journey, carbs for tea!

Lembas bread: Lembas, the famous waybread of the elves, is the perfect food for a long journey or arduous task and certainly the most famous food connected to Lord of the Rings. All Lord of the Rings parties need some form of lembas bread, or you’re not really trying. I recommend making a homemade batch using one of the many, many recipes available in unofficial cookbooks or online, such as this unusual one by The Geeky Chef that uses kumquats. Lembas is a sweet flat bread, so many fan recipes flavor it with honey, nuts, citrus, or other fruit flavors that will make it taste similar to a light cake, cookie, or pastry, and the end result can resemble a biscuit or shortbread. As the traveler’s hardy hand food, lembas is generally eaten by itself, but for the party you might consider offering dips and toppings that would work well with sweet breakfast foods or desserts like yogurt dip, sweet cream, or sliced fruit.

Seed cake: When the dwarves arrive at Bag’s End in The Hobbit, Bilbo’s manners get the best of him, and he finds himself serving his unwanted guests some fresh-baked seed cake. I remember reading a lot of high fantasy growing up and finding “seed cake” seemingly everywhere, and I am pretty sure everyone in the Fellowship—and probably Middle-earth—would have enjoyed this sweet, dense cake. Tolkien may have grown up eating a version like a very buttery pound cake with caraway seeds, which have a licorice flavor and can likely be found in specialty spice shops or Indian grocery stores. Poppy seeds are another traditional option if you cannot find caraway seeds, or you can always make a more modern version with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. You can find many LotR-inspired seed cake recipes in unofficial Tolkien-themed cookbooks or online, such as this one and this one, or you can use your own preferred recipe. If desired, use a plain glaze or light icing flavored with vanilla, lemon, or ginger and some of the seeds used in the cake. Serve with tea and offer butter or jam on the side.

Beverages:

Ale

Apple cider

Beer

Coffee

Mead: Can be expensive.

Mulled cider or wine

Tea, serve hot

Water

Wine, red and white

Cocktails:

Lórien Sangria: Make a white wine sangria with light-colored fruits like green grapes or finely chopped chunks of apple or pear. You could also choose to add a touch of lemon zest curls or rosemary for a bit more color and a different flavor note. Choose a white wine based on your preference that will work well with sweet, light-colored fruit juice like pale apple juice, white grape juice, or a strong lemonade. I like my drinks sweet, so I would probably use a drier prosecco with plenty of fruit juice or a sweeter, honey-flavored moscato. Sangria can be made before the party begins and served from a punch bowl or a clear dispenser. Some dispensers or punch bowls can be placed in cooling trays of ice to keep the sangria chilled, but you can also keep ice on hand so guests can keep their drink cold without watering the cocktail down over time. Fruit can be added directly to punch bowls, but if you use a dispenser, consider placing the fruit in an iced bowl nearby so guests can add some to their drinks. The fruit will float on top of the sangria if you want to add some to the dispenser for looks, but be aware that very small chunks could clog the spigot when the sangria gets low enough.

The Age of Men: Make a modified “Dark ‘n’ Stormy” by swapping ginger beer for a bitter-leaning root beer (think Barq’s over A&W), or by splitting your measurement of alcohol between ginger beer and root beer. Leave the dark rum the same. Root beer will make the drink a little sweeter than a usual Dark ‘n’ Stormy, and it will make the color darker. Ginger beer is actually older than root beer, and I personally prefer a traditional Dark ‘n’ Stormy, but I think this would be a good option for people who don’t want wine but want something a little more exciting than plain beer.

 

lord_of_the_rings_board_game_cover
Lord of the Rings board game

Activities:

Movie Drinking Game: Play a drinking game with your favorite LotR film. I’m imagining the Peter Jackson adaptations—please, there will be rampant alcohol consumption, forgo the extended versions this one time—but you can of course use other versions. Based on your knowledge of the film and your guests’ tolerance for alcohol, create rules for a drinking game, e.g., “Take a sip every time Frodo and Sam say the other’s name,” and present them to your guests before playing the film. Make a large poster of all the rules to set up near the screen and distribute a few printed copies among the guests. Do not force or pressure any of your guests to play the drinking game; make sure guests know they may stop playing at any time, and do not allow other guests to pester them for doing so. Design your game to support guests in completing the game safely and comfortably. For example, if you have a lot of rules or if your rules require guests to drink often or drink several heavy doses, offer party beverages that have low alcohol content. Also consider the length of the movie when planning your event schedule, the amount of alcohol you will serve, and guests’ comfort with long activities or activities involving alcohol.

Here are some rules you might consider using in your drinking game:

  • Drink and shout “BrOTP!” whenever Legolas and Gimli banter.
  • Drink any time an Elf does something impressive or fabulous.
  • Drink any time Jackson provides a Bagginshield OTP moment.
  • Drink whenever someone has a flashback or vision.
  • Drink whenever someone makes a dramatic speech or monologue.
  • Take a sip any time a Hobbit mentions food or drink.
  • Take a sip any time someone looks soulfully into the camera or the distance.
  • Take a sip whenever someone kills an orc.
  • Toast Gandalf and the Rohirrim and take a shot when the cavalry pours into Helm’s Deep.
  • Toast the king of Gondor and finish your drink when Aragorn leads the Battle of the Black Gate.
  • Toast the lady of Rohan and take a shot when Éowyn slays the Witch-king of Angmar.

Language Learning Game: Tolkien developed numerous sophisticated languages for the peoples of Middle-earth, so invite your guests to learn a few words! Prepare this activity ahead of time by researching Tolkien’s languages and learning how to pronounce all of the vocabulary words you want to include in the activity. Choose words that are relevant to the story (ring, wizard, battle) or fun to know or say (wine, idiot, potato). Create vocabulary cards with the word in your party’s main language(s), the word in its Tolkien language(s), the new word’s phonetic pronunciation in each of the Tolkien languages, and a picture or illustration of the word. Use stiff index cards or card stock for easy handling, and consider creating the content using a word processor for easy reading and drawing. To play with the languages, first divide guests into small groups and give each group a few flashcards to learn. If any guests are familiar with the words already, enlist their help in teaching the words to other guests. While the guests are in small groups, invite them to quiz each other and make up funny sentences using the new words. Once guests are comfortable with the words, mix groups into new groups and invite guests to teach their new group members the words they learned.

When the new groups are familiar with their Tolkien words, play a game using the new words. Plan a game that works best for the number of guests participating in the activity, your available resources, the number and difficulty of languages represented in your flashcards, the availability of a non-player moderator, and the amount of time you want to spend on a language game. If you want an activity that guests can run by themselves, create a vocabulary memory game by making a separate set of flashcards that guests will attempt to match and collect (matching a Tolkien language word to its main language translation; matching a word in one Tolkien language to the word in another Tolkien language; matching a Tolkien word to its corresponding picture). Guests can play this game in pairs or in teams by taking turns trying to find a match.

If you are open to moderating a game and all participants have had a chance to study all of the vocabulary words, you can play a trivia game where teams compete to answer questions like “What is the word for sword in Sindarin?” or a Pictionary game where teams compete to name a player’s picture in the right Tolkien language. For something less competitive that also evokes Tolkien’s love and use of songs and lyrics, guests can play a rhyming game in which they write and share short, silly poems based on a vocabulary word and words that rhyme with it in their main language. To make this version more complex, encourage guests to choose a specific character, object, place, or event from Lord of the Rings as the subject of their poem and describe it in a way so that other guests must solve the poem like a riddle to guess what it is about.

Writing the Epic: It seems everyone in Middle-earth has written a poem, a song, or an epic piece of literature at some point, so it seems appropriate that your guests should give it a try. Play a variation of “Exquisite Corpse” with just some paper and pens. In the basic form of the game, each player sits in a circle with the group and receives a pen and a piece of paper. Each player then writes a sentence that begins a story at the top of their piece of paper, and when all of the guests are finished, they pass their piece of paper to the player on their right. Once the players receive the new pieces of paper, they read the sentence at the top of the page and write the next sentence in the story. The player then folds the paper so that only the sentence they just added can be seen and passes the paper to their left again. Each piece of paper should move around the circle from player to player and gain a new sentence each time it stops. Play stops when a paper is filled to capacity and no more sentences can be added. All of the stories are then unfolded and read out loud to the group one at a time.

When you explain the instructions for the game, encourage guests to write stories based on the party’s theme. For variation, you can change up the instructions by giving guests the option to draw a quick picture instead of writing a sentence, breaking guests into smaller groups to make the stories more focused, having guests pull cards with specific words or Lord of the Rings things they must use in their first sentence, or encouraging the guests to write a song or poem instead of a story.

Lord of the Boards: Board games can support large or small groups, start conversation between players, run during other activities that not all guests will want to participate in (movies, drinking, heavy physical activity), and be paused and resumed easily when guests want to join special party events, swap in a different player, or get food. You might already have some “fantasy elements” games on hand that would be great additions to your party. Many ubiquitous, classic elements of the fantasy genre today can be tracked back to Lord of the Rings, and you can see its influence in practically every fantasy tabletop game like Munchkin, Small World, or Dungeons & Dragons

There are also official LotR board games that would be perfect for your party, such as the cleverly-named “Lord of the Rings: The Board Game,” an award-winning cooperative game published by Fantasy Flight Games where players work together as a group of hobbits trying to get the Ring to Mordor, or the same company’s version of The Hobbit where you play as the dwarves trying to get Bilbo to Smaug. You can also find a plethora of original rotating card games, deck-building games, storytelling games, trivia games, or combat-based games grounded in Tolkien’s story and characters, as well as original games based on the various LotR and Hobbit films. However, some of these games are quite niche or uncommon, and guests may have trouble learning new sets of long or complicated rules. Players who are unfamiliar with deck-building games, for example, will need to learn the concept behind this game design as well as the specific rules for whatever LotR edition you provide, and some guests may find this learning curve or the time it would take to read and explain all of the rules to new players prohibitive to trying a particular game.

Fortunately, we have many simple, more familiar alternatives available! When Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films came out and the franchise was in full swing, other companies released a lot of associated merchandise, including licensed, LotR versions of famous popular board games. So, you can find titles like Monopoly: The Lord of the Rings Edition, RISK: The Lord of the Rings Edition, and Trivial Pursuit: The Lord of the Rings Edition. Even Yahtzee! got a special movie tie-in “collector’s edition” for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Shorter games like Munchkin, Yahtzee!, or quick rounds of Trivial Pursuit can be organized into tournaments and go on throughout the party, or longer games can be introduced and set up for guests to choose to play at any time if your party is more freeform.

 

Have fun with your party, and be sure to let us know if you use any of these ideas! We’d love to hear how they work out and if you have any ideas of your own.

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