“Why to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don't the great tales never end?”
“No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later - or sooner.” - JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers.
Frodo is indeed right, the great tales never end and neither do the utterly ridiculous ones, it would appear. Fair enough, Frodo is world famous for his part as the main character in Tolkien’s epic masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, who was recently anthropomorphised by Elijah Wood in Peter Jackson’s blockbuster films. Rightly so, Frodo does all kinds of things, like star in a film, talk, and has adventures, encounters danger and conquers evil.
Figwit sits, and then stands, and that’s pretty much it. No, I’m sorry, that’s not quite correct. He also pouts. And he does so for all of three seconds, in the background of a crowded shot. Yet, astonishingly, both these characters have massive internet followings.
Figwit is not technically a Tolkien character. This elf did not appear in any of the treasured tomes and doesn’t officially have a role per se in The Fellowship of the Ring. He was merely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him extra. Literally. “To see me, I need to be there and nudge you or have the DVD on freeze frame,” explains the actor in question, who is the subject of a truly hilarious internet in-joke that’s made him arguably the most famous film extra in the history of cinema. (Star Wars’ Boba Fett, who has a similarly insane following, at least had some lines….)
Actor Bret McKenzie played an ostensibly anonymous and non-speaking elf in the background of the Council of Elrond scene, sitting next to Aragorn, in the first instalment of the LOTR film trilogy. A weeks work as an extra done and McKenzie didn’t think anything more of it, returning to life in New Zealand as keyboard player for reggae funk band The Black Seeds and one half of award winning comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. Job done. Moving on.
However, there’s something about LOTR that inspires an obsessive level of attention to detail amongst their fans and McKenzie’s elfish good looks had remarkably, given he makes such a fleeting appearance, caught the eye of Iris Hadad, a LOTR fan with a joyously irreverent sense of humour in Israel.
She christened this elf Figwit, an acronym for ‘Frodo is Grea…who is THAT?!” As she explains on her website figwitlives.net, “When Frodo says ‘I will take it!’, we are so impressed we start to think ‘Frodo is great!’ But before we finish that thought, the camera pans and we see Figwit, smouldering enigmatically in the background and all our Frodo thoughts are whisked away by that elf - who is THAT?! He’s gorgeous!”
Meeting Brit Sherry de Andres on a LOTR related message board, the pair “started having fun with this handsome elf”, Hadad tells the Big Issue via email. “Other people found it amusing and joined in the fun. In March 2002 we started the website - a place to put all the pictures we found, the parody songs people wrote, the FAQ we wrote and everything else. We really didn’t expect it to go beyond that; it was a little inside joke for a small group of people really”.
However, things “multiplied like a gremlin”, as McKenzie puts it, once the site was linked to the theonering.net, the biggest Tolkien fansite. Virtually overnight Figwit became an internet phenomenon. Other Figwit sites proliferated, the international mainstream media picked up on it and when Hadad, de Andres and a couple of fans from Germany and America all flew to Edinburgh last August to not only meet McKenzie, but each other for the first time, there was even a documentary maker there to capture it all. “That added another layer of bizareness to it all,” admits McKenzie, who thinks the whole thing is hilarious.
“It’s pretty much a huuuuuge joke. The whole thing is really funny and that’s why the website was a success because it’s so ridiculous to have so much effort put into so little. That’s why it took off, because people find it funny,” McKenzie says, when recently in Australia.
Indeed, the many fans of Figwit appear to all delight in furthering the joke and a Google search will bring back over fourteen hundred results, ranging from the bizarre to laugh-out-loud funny. You can sing along with Figwit karaoke. You can watch animated Figwits wiggling their ears. Portraits of Figwit wearing women’s make up, anyone? With Elvis hair?
The I-Am-Figwit site, which McKenzie says he has nothing to do with, has ‘Figwit’ answering questions such as “Figwit, are you a virgin?” and “can you please tell me if you listen to Britney Spears.” Another site had an online campaign to get Figwit voted for the Best Cameo award at the MTV Movie Awards, and for a time an American entrepreneuer was selling Figwit g-strings.
Fans now create their own mythology in great slabs of fan fiction, or “figtion” as the Fans of Figwit site has dubbed it. (This site has also gone so far as to identify McKenzie’s brother Justin, who also played an elf in that same scene, sitting to Elrond’s right, and have named him Faelon.)
Equally amusing are the sites that boast a very jocular anti-figwit sentiment, such as Figwit Is Evil, which shows ‘incriminating’ photos of Figwit with Osama Bin Laden and Hitler. Jealous elves, such as Meorof, record diary entries like, “tried to bitch slap Figwit this morning but I was stopped by his bodyguards.” And making a joke of the joke are parody sites, such as Figpeep Lives, which replicates the original site exactly except all the actors are replaced by rabbit shaped candies.
Whilst McKenzie is at a point where “I tend to not be surprised by the most weird thing coming out of it”, the weirdest thing for him is knowing that swimming somewhere in the Outer Hebrides is a dolphin named Figwit, which the Scottish Tolkien Fellowship fund-raised for and sponsored.
Figwit, as McKenzie notes, is now way out of the control of all of them. “It still amazes me when I think about it,” admits Hadad, of what she has created. McKenzie wasn’t available for the second two films although he does get an extra second or two screen time in the DVD version. “I am interested to see what happens and if it continues to grow,” says McKenzie, “I just cant see how it can carry on, but I wonder if it’s going to haunt me.” Well as Frodo said, the great tales never end…