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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Eight: War and Peace in Middle-earth

Suggested Activities

The Heroine with a Thousand Faces. In Éowyn we find both a compelling secondary character and the representative of a type, the woman warrior. Divide the class into groups, then assign each to investigate an aspect of female valor. While some teams will prefer to study individual heroines, from Boudicca to Joan of Arc to Molly Pitcher, others may want to consider the Amazons, the Valkyries, and other such sororities. Each student group can use its research to write a proposal for a dramatic TV series about an actual woman warrior or a legendary heroine. In most cases, will it be possible to write entertaining scripts without deviating from the known facts or violating the accepted mythologies?

A Tolkien-like Conflict? Sad to say, as you read these words, at least one war is raging somewhere in the world, and probably several. Invite the class to bring in news clippings or Internet printouts about the most prominent such conflict. Can The Lord of the Rings help us understand the political and psychological dimensions of the war in question? Has one side succumbed to despair? Is that despair likely to trigger reckless acts? Are pride, honor, duty, and the other "warrior virtues" irrelevant to modern warfare?

A Radioactive Ring? Tolkien conceived the central premise of his epic fantasy many years before the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. And yet in some of their deliberations about the One Ring, the free folk of Middle-earth might almost be talking about nuclear weapons. (On page 357 Sam suggests that Galadriel "put things to rights" through the Ring, and she replies, "That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas!") Ask the class to imagine they're reading Tolkien's epic shortly after its publication in 1954. Have each student write the author a letter congratulating him on his prescience, noting several moments in which the characters are evidently discussing nuclear strategic doctrine. What sort of letter might Tolkien, who was never happy when readers imposed contemporary issues on his fiction, have written back?

The Hospitality of Hell. Among the most dramatic motifs in epic literature is the visit to the land of the dead. Working in groups, the class can investigate the netherworld journeys of Gilgamesh, Ishtar, Hercules, Odysseus, Perseus, Orpheus, Aeneas, and other heroes. Each team might present its findings as an improvised drama in which the returning traveler offers his skeptical audience physical and anecdotal proof of his adventure. How do the classic mythological descents differ from Aragorn's journey into the depths of the Haunted Mountain? Why was the Grey Company successful in negotiating the Paths of the Dead when most such missions fail?

"The War to End All Wars." Historians and scholars are nearly unanimous in their opinion that the First World War was the defining event of the twentieth century. With its unimaginable toll in human lives and incalculable damage to human ideals, this catastrophe dethroned the optimism that had characterized the nineteenth century "Age of Progress." While it's impossible to encompass the conflict in a few class periods, you may want to have each student prepare a brief oral talk on some aspect of the Great War. Possible topics include: the prewar balance of power, the Western Front, the American role, the Battle of the Somme, the poetry of Wilfred Owen.

Unit Eight Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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