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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Eight: War and Peace in Middle-earth

Discussion Topics

Denethor's Madness. At some point during the Siege of Gondor, Denethor's fatalism crosses the line into madness, and he prepares to immolate himself and Faramir. Have the class discuss why Denethor succumbs to despair. Is he another victim of the Ring? What role does the Seeing Stone play in the Steward's fall? How might Galadriel have cautioned Denethor regarding the palantír's prophecies? Shortly before Denethor's march to the pyre, Gandalf upbraids him: "And only the heathen kings . . . did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death" (page 835). Do students understand why Denethor's suicide is ultimately an act of "pride"? What distinguishes the admirable pride of an effective ruler from the ruinous pride of a Denethor?

Éowyn's Despair. Tolkien establishes an illuminating parallel between Denethor's desire to burn on the pyre and Éowyn's wish to die bravely in battle. Would the class say that Éowyn is frankly suicidal when she attacks the Nazgûl Lord? "I have, maybe, the power to heal her body, and to recall her from the dark valley," Aragorn declares as Éowyn lies wounded in the Houses of Healing. "But to what she will awake: hope, or forgetfulness, or despair, I do not know. And if to despair, then she will die . . . Alas! for her deeds have set her among the queens of great renown" (page 849). Why aren't Éowyn's deeds sufficient to guarantee that she will awaken to hope? Besides getting past her unrequited love for Aragorn, what changes will have to occur in Éowyn's heart before she is healed?

Gandalf's Counsel. "This war then is without final hope, as Denethor perceived," the wizard tells Prince Imrahil and Éomer after they have swept Sauron's forces from the Pelennor. "Victory cannot be achieved by arms, whether you sit here to endure siege after siege, or march out to be overwhelmed beyond the River" (page 680). Have the class discuss the alternative to "victory by arms" that Gandalf presents in this scene. In the students' understanding of history, has a war ever been won through combat alone? How would the class weigh fighting per se against such factors as morale, disease, weather, geography, supply lines, lucky breaks, and the home front?

"Nor the Warrior for His Glory." During Frodo and Sam's sojourn with the Captain of Gondor, Faramir voices an elegant thought: "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Númenor" (page 656). Ask the class to identify those qualities in Faramir that enable him to distinguish the love of arms from the imperative to protect hearth and home. In practice, is the distinction between self-defense and naked aggression easy to maintain? What about "preemptive" wars?

Tolstoy and Tolkien. In the greatest of all antiwar novels, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Napoleon Bonaparte is portrayed as a being no less corrupt than Sauron. And yet Tolstoy refuses to accord individual soldiers the sort of sympathy Sam extends to the slain Southron (page 646). "At the battle of Borodino," Tolstoy wrote, "Napoleon did not fire a shot and did not kill anyone. All that was done by the soldiers. Therefore it was not he who did the killing." What does the class make of Tolstoy's rigorous pacifism? Do some students regard it as a libel against the honorable profession of soldiering? Would anyone argue that, by locating evil in only a few characters, Tolkien distracts us from the fact that every war is an immense collaboration, characterized by shared guilt and countless bloody hands?

"The Uttermost End of Need." Like his valiant, if misguided, son Boromir, Denethor cannot bring himself to renounce completely every conceivable use of the Ring. Instead of being entrusted to "a witless halfling," Denethor tells Gandalf, the Ring should have been "kept hidden dark and deep. Not used, I say, unless at the uttermost end of need" (page 795). Does this rationalization sound familiar to students? Can the class give examples of political leaders sponsoring invasions or pursuing reprehensible policies because their nations were supposedly "at the uttermost end of need"?

Unit Eight Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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