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‘The Lord of the Rings’ cast is crowdfunding to buy J.R.R. Tolkien’s home and turn it into a literary center

‘The Lord of the Rings’ cast is crowdfunding to buy J.R.R. Tolkien’s home and turn it into a literary center

J.R.R. Tolkien’s home in Oxford, England, is where Middle Earth was made. Where Bilbo Baggins first met Gandalf, and orcs and elves and hobbits sparred while one ring threatened to rule them all.

The house on Northmoor Road, where Tolkien penned “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, will soon hit the market. To preserve it for fans and writers, the actors who brought Tolkien’s worlds to film are crowdfunding to buy it.

Actors including Gandalf himself, Ian McKellen, and Martin Freeman, who played Bilbo in “The Hobbit” films, have launched the “Project Northmoor” crowdfunding campaign to purchase Tolkien’s home and transform it into a literary center in his honor.

If the campaign succeeds,the home where Tolkien lived from 1930 to 1947 will be the first center dedicated to the fantasy author anywhere in the world, said John Rhys-Davies, who played beloved dwarf Gimli in “The Lord of the Rings” series.

A Tolkien-esque challenge lies ahead, though — Project Northmoor has just three months to raise $6 million. Author Julia Golding, who’s leading the project, compared their fundraising challenge to the perilous journey of two of Tolkien’s best-loved characters.

“However, we need only to look at Frodo and Sam’s journey from Rivendell to Mount Doom, which took that same amount of time — and we are inspired that we can do this too!” she said in a news release.

Over $5 million of those funds will go toward the purchase of the home, and the rest will be used to renovate it and create the nonprofit that will operate there. If the campaign succeeds, the home will host literary programs for budding fantasy writers and Tolkien fans alike, according to the campaign.

Project Northmoor is asking Tolkien readers — who McKellen called “our fellowship of funders” — to donate what they can to the cause. There are various tiers of fundraising the group hopes to reach — including one that would restore Tolkien’s garden and another that would install a lair for the fearsome dragon Smaug.

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Sea shanties are your soundtrack of 2021. Seriously

It’s folly to examine why some things go viral on the internet, and by doing so one risks discounting the beauty of the simplest answer: They just do. Nothing makes sense. Roll with it.

Or at least, that’s the easiest thing to tell yourself when “The Wellerman,” a 19th Century whaling song, has been knocking around in your head for a week straight.

The jaunty tune about sugar and tea and rum is the center of a very cool, well-executed trend on TikTok started by Scottish musician Nathan Evans. His version of the song, which was previously brought into modern popularity by the group The Longest Johns, has garnered almost 5 million views on the video-sharing app TikTok.

“I think it’s because everyone is feeling alone and stuck at home during this pandemic and it gives everyone a sense of unity and friendship,” Evans, the 26-year-old singer from Airdrie, Scotland, told CNN.

“And shanties are great because they bring loads of people together and anyone can join in. You don’t even need to be able to sing to join in on a sea shanty!”

Since Evans posted his song on TikTok in late December, other musicians have used the app’s duet feature to add their own voices and instruments to the mix, resulting in a harmonic kaleidoscope of renditions that have gained their own popularity. Other sea shanties took off as well (there is some difference in the definition of these maritime songs, but we’ll just stick to shanties for now). Everyone was having a good time.

Then, things got weird. TikTok users started creating dubstep shanties. Smash Mouth’s 1999 “All Star,” already a god-tier meme in its own right, got the shanty treatment. Awareness of this new nautical trend migrated to Twitter and other social media platforms. “The Wellerman” rose up the Spotify charts.

For whatever reason, sea shanties hit a nerve. And yes, you could chalk it up as another internet oddity. But surely, there must be something more here, right? Why else would people say things like “2021 is the year of the sea shanty,” or post memes about how “The Wellerman” has become part of the soundtrack of our current state of acute global and political crisis?

“I can’t tell if the whole sea shanty thing is the perfect wholesome distraction from the horror of life in 2021, or the final nail in coffin of my psyche,” Blink-182 frontman Mark Hoppus said on Twitter.

It’s true the songs are pretty catchy, and that’s by design. Shanties are a type of work song, passed around by laborers, often underpaid and overworked, to alleviate the monotony of their toil.

Monotony and economic uncertainty? In our 2021? Maybe it’s not so much of a stretch after all.

This shanty moment is also another example of TikTok’s cultural range. The video-sharing app regularly catapults meme music into chart-topping bangers and transforms already-big hits like Cardi B’s “WAP” into major cultural moments. (And yes, there are now sea shanty versions of “WAP,” too.) This is where a fun joke about a “Ratatouille” musical, of all things, can become a real event, and where tunes from the past, whether it be Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” or a 19th century nautical ditty, can be remixed and reborn in an instant.

And all of this happens because one person sees what another has done, and decides to join in. In fact, Evans says that’s been his favorite part of watching the trend grow.

“So many people have joined in, and also the happiness and joy it has brung so many other people, it is absolutely incredible,” he says.

This type of exchange is literally the basis of folk traditions, and one of the reasons sea shanties and the music of everyday people is kept alive through history and across cultures.

Was this just the right moment in time, when, isolated and restless, craving release from political upheaval and existential worry, people chose to reach across oceans and engage in a little sea shanty obsession?

Maybe. Or maybe it shouldn’t make sense, and we should just roll with it.

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