This season, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" premieres as the latest in the blockbuster movie franchise chronicling J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved characters Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Frodo and the gang. With the newest entry in the series (plus two hobbit sequels in the works) this could propel Tolkein's tales into one of the highest-grossing franchises ever.
This renewed interest in hobbits might make 2013 a busy year for the Hobbit House of Montana, which is a custom guest house built into the sloping ground on a 20-acre plot.
Surely this inspired tribute is the work of a major Tolkien fan?
"Not at all," said owner Steve Michaels, explaining that the Hobbit house began as a guest house for friends and family, and that it was underground for efficient heating and cooling. When the structure was being built in 2008, the carpenter's son compared it to a hobbit house, which sparked the idea to use it as a rental property. Michaels studied for his project by reading the books and watching the movies, and snapping photos of the structures in the movies.
Michaels spent $410,000 building up his shire, which in addition to traditional guest house amenities like a raised deck with barbecue area, has many unique features like buildings for hobbits, trolls and fairies.
"I just kind of went nuts. I have a good imagination," Michaels says, describing multiple lights that come up at night on the site, in the other hobbit houses, on the murals, and in a field of over 200 solar-powered color-changing dragonfly lights.
"We're not doing it for the money; I've got several other businesses. It's a labor of love."
So will there be more fantasy accommodations for people to rent? Michaels says he's considering adding a tree house. He adds that the attraction's name will be changing soon to The Shire of Montana, due to a cease-and-desist from the owner of the Tolkien characters. They can still call the rental house the Hobbit House, as long as they explain it's inspired by the Tolkien work. If anything, Michaels feels this frees him up to get more creative with future additions to his shire.