Part 1: Bridal Fashion
Becoming an Elven Princess …
This spectacular dress and cloak were made for me by Monica Hankins, owner of Boxcar Boutique. The dress itself is satin, with silver trim and full lacing up the back. If you look closely at the trim, you’ll see the elvish writing (a secret message from me to my groom) that Monica hand-embroidered. The arms from the elbows down are organza, as is the cloak, so they flow beautifully in the breeze and look translucent in the sunshine. I wore the cloak down the aisle, and then handed it to my bridesmaids along with my bouquet. I wore a comfortable pair of flat-soled beige suede above-the-knee boots underneath.
Jacquetta Sorenson from Visalia designed my hairstyle, and came to Sequoia to do my hair and makeup, and put in the hair jewelry. Because Visalia is too far from LA where we live to make repeated trial visits, Jacquetta and I talked by Skype to discuss possible hairstyles, and Shelby and I stopped in Visalia on our way to the Park to try some things out. She clearly understood the look I was going for, and went above and beyond to create the perfect elven design.
Because my coiffure was so complex, Jacquetta brought an assistant to do my bridesmaids’ hair so she could focus exclusively on me, weaving in actual locks of my own hair (cut off last year) to make the dramatic design on top. I wore a silver circlet, a silver and crystal hair ornament, and matching pendant earrings. To give the illusion of pointed elf ears (without actually putting on prosthetic ears), I wore heavy silver ear cuffs, with a sort of valkyrie design.
Part 2: Equipping a Warrior
Outfitting a heroic groom…
Shelby wore a tunic, pants, cloak and boots custom-made by Armstreet. He added several pieces from Etsy sellers, including a leather chest-piece with a high collar and pauldrons, with a matching wide belt, a leather bracer on his left arm, and a magnificent leather gauntlet on his right hand. (He actually has one for each hand, but since there is that whole ring exchange thing….) He carried an antique short sword to defend his bride.
Part 3: The Wedding Party
Bridesmaids and groomsmen…
Rather than have a group of bridesmaids, I chose to have Susan and Amber both serve as my Matrons of Honor. Monica from Boxcar Boutique custom-made their dresses, with similar yet distinct designs that each woman chose herself. Susan’s dress is modeled after Eowyn’s green dress, and Amber’s is a combination of other dresses seen in the movies. Because one of our sub-themes was “light and darkness,” they carried lanterns (specially decorated by the groom’s aunt) rather than flowers. Jacquetta Sorenson made the trip to the Lodge from Visalia to do hair and makeup for the three of us. Because my hairstyle was so complex and time-consuming, Jacquetta brought her colleague, Audra Espinoza-Strong, along to do the Susan and Amber’s hair and makeup, just to make sure we were all ready in plenty of time.
Shelby also preferred to have just his best friends, David and Payam, as groomsmen, and designated them both Best Man. Payam chose to represent the dwarves, wearing various armor pieces from Armstreet, including a steel gorget, tunic, pants, boots, and wide leather belt. He carried a double-bladed axe in defense of the groom. David dressed as a human warrior, with steel armor, tunic, scarf, and cloak, at times carrying an elven longsword.
Not only did Shelby’s mom and aunt pitch in to provide invaluable help and support by creating our centerpieces and decorations, but his entire family dressed in Middle Earth attire. Grandma and Aunt Carla made their own dresses, and Carla also made her husband’s clothing and Nina’s dress as well.
Likewise, my family, who traveled out from Ohio and Arizona also got into the spirit of things with their own take on Middle Earth fashions.
Even Shelby’s cousins, who traveled up from Mérida, in the Yucatán region of Mexico, created their own lovely clothing ensembles, uniquely designed and hand-sewn by the ladies themselves.
Part 4: The Guests (and the Rest)
We had asked that our guests wear Middle Earth-appropriate fashions, and they did not disappoint! No two outfits were alike, and everyone looked amazing! There were Hobbits, warriors, lords and ladies of Gondor and Rohan, elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien, and others from farther-flung corners of Middle Earth. We are truly grateful to our friends and families for the thought and care that went into assembling such amazing attire!
Take a look!
Re-creating Middle Earth for the Ceremony
Here are some views of our ceremony decor:
As I noted in earlier posts, our ceremony was held on a long wooden bridge in Sequoia National Forest, presided over by our very own Gandalf stand-in. The groom’s mother and aunt did an amazing job decorating the bridge. They created an arch (from branches from Shelby’s mom’s tree), hung the bridge with flags of various Middle Earth realms, and added lanterns, moss, garlands, and candles everywhere.
We decided to keep the wedding fairly small, and we asked that our guests come in Middle Earth-appropriate attire, and to our delight, almost all of them did! Obviously a lot of time, effort, research, and love went into many of these ensembles, and we were regaled with a great many styles representing the varied peoples of Middle Earth. Elves, warriors, hobbits, and an assortment of lords and ladies all joined us on the bridge where we exchanged our vows.
Obviously, our overall theme was Lord of the Rings/Middle Earth. Our “silent” theme (not meant to be obvious to our guests, but which underlay every part of our day) was the idea that light balances (and is balanced by) darkness; shadows only exist where light shines, and light only appears bright when darkness is present. Darkness could swallow light, and light could obliterate darkness, but when there is balance they both refrain from doing so and complement each other greatly. Pastor Rich referred to this during the ceremony, saying “Love is giving someone the ability to destroy you, but trusting them not to.”
Our “aisle” was a woodland path leading up to the bridge. The two groomsmen walked down the aisle in their armor, and Shelby followed them, sword in hand, while David Arkenstone’s Road to Rivendell played. Next came the two bridesmaids, each carrying a bright lantern (specially decorated with lovely flowers by the groom’s aunt). As the assembly turned to watch Erin begin her walk down the aisle, Shelby, his groomsmen, and two friends of the couple turned toward the pathway and began singing (a capella and in Sindarin) the complex melody and harmonies of The Passing of the Elves. This was a special surprise for Erin, who had been kept in the dark about what the groom had been planning (she was even unaware he had been taking singing lessons to prepare!).
Erin walked to alone down the path to join her groom, carrying a special silver locket given to her by the groom’s mother and aunt, which held a picture of her recently deceased father (so that her father could symbolically walk her down the aisle). She was decked out in handmade wedding dress (with text embroidered in elvish that referenced the light/dark theme), silver circlet and ear cuffs, and flowing cloak. When Erin reached the altar, she handed off her bouquet and cloak to the bridesmaids and turned to Shelby.
The ceremony began with a short memorial for those who couldn’t attend: Erin’s father, who passed away seven months earlier, and Shelby’s grandfather, who passed away in 2007. Three passages were included in Pastor Rich’s address, chosen by the bride and groom. More traditionally, Matthew 19:5-6, acknowledging that God had chosen to create this couple, and Song of Solomon 8:6-7, recognizing the matchless value of love. In keeping with the Middle Earth theme, the final reading was from Chapter 19 of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, Of Beren and Lúthien:
Then Beren looking up beheld the eyes of Lúthien, and his glance went also to the face of Melian and it seemed to him that words were put into his mouth. Fear left him, and the pride of the eldest house of Men returned to him; and he said: “My fate, O King, led me hither, through perils such as few even of the Elves would dare. And here I have found what I sought not indeed, but finding I would possess for ever. For it is above all gold and silver, and beyond all jewels. Neither rock, nor steel, nor the fires of Morgoth, nor all the powers of the Elf-kingdoms, shall keep from me the treasure that I desire. For Lúthien your daughter is the fairest of all the Children of the World.”
The couple exchanged traditional “I do’s,” followed by a private exchange of personal vows they had composed for each other (hand-written on scrolls of parchment each carried). They placed the rings on each other’s hands (which is why the groom only wore a gauntlet on his right hand), and were declared husband and wife. Before they walked together back down the aisle, Shelby turned to Erin and once again sang for her, this time a lovely rendition of Aragorn’s coronation song (Elendil’s Oath) from Return of the King.
Walking back up the aisle, we made our way off the bridge.
A Reception Fit for a King
We held our reception inside Wuksachi Lodge, in a room with doors opening on a balcony overlooking the path to the bridge. Guests signed a leather-bound custom-made guestbook before entering. For the reception, like the ceremony, the groom’s mom and aunt had gotten really creative, custom-designing and building each of the table centerpieces to represent a realm in Middle Earth. Each table was set with a lovely green tablecloth with brown napkins evoking the surrounding forest. One table was decked out as Hobbiton and the Shire, another was characterized by the trees of Lothlorien, and still others represented Rivendell, Gondor, and Rohan (and one “everything” centerpiece they made at the last second when another table was added!). Each centerpiece was incredibly unique, and guests chose for themselves which table’s “realm” they wished to join for dinner.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen joined the rest of the guests, and the bride and groom sat alone at a small “sweetheart” table beyond the dance floor. The table was decorated to represent Mordor, with black tablecloths, a Mount Doom centerpiece spewing lava, and the tower of Barad-dûr. Instead of crystal wine glasses, we drank from pewter goblets decorated with scenes from the Fellowship of the Ring. The look was completed with a menacing mist rolling out from under our table onto the dance floor, courtesy of a fog machine (and a button conveniently placed on the table for us to hit).
The flags had been brought from the bridge, and white candles, each encircled with the ring text, sat on pedestals made of tree slices on the candy table, next to candy bars adorned with “Lord Shelby and Lady Erin” on one side, and “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” on the reverse.
This was followed by Shelby dancing with his mom and Erin dancing with her brother Patrick (who stood in for our Dad, who passed away in February of that year).
We didn’t have enough single girls to justify throwing the bouquet, so Shelby recited the Ring Poem from the Epigraph of the Lord of the Rings, while Erin tossed ring pops to the guests.
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie,
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
At the end of the evening, each of the guests was handed a lantern, and headed back to the bridge. The night was quite dark (the moon was still hidden by the trees), and the long procession must have looked a little eerie to other park guests that night. As we bid our guests farewell, the full moon peeked over the tops of the sequoia trees for the perfect final photo.