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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Four: One Ring to Rule Them All

Comments for Teachers

Fantasy literature is sometimes dismissed as irrelevant to the concerns of a post-industrial society. This view does not withstand scrutiny. In Book One of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien introduces two themes that are particularly pertinent to the modern world.

The first such theme concerns the corrosive effect that the notorious "will to power" exerts on the heart and mind. As we note in the second discussion topic, the reciprocity between domination and degradation was memorably summarized by Lord Acton when he observed that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Tolkien's second modern theme is "responsibility," the sense of obligation an individual human feels toward his fellow creatures. The concept of personal responsibility occupies a place in The Lord of the Rings no less central than such loftier and more venerable ideals as duty, honor, obedience, compassion, and charity.

By the end of Book One the reader understands that Sauron's Ring has many aspects. Beyond its status as a fount of absolute power, the object apparently functions as a kind of psychic amplifier. In his protracted conversation with Frodo, Gandalf tells the hobbit that the corruption will be forestalled if the user "is strong-willed or well meaning to begin with" (page 46).

The One Ring is also evidently an addiction. Recounting Gollum's ownership of the artifact, Gandalf notes that "the thing was eating up his mind" (page 54). Gollum soon grew powerless over his craving: "He had no will left in the matter" (page 54). Upon losing "the precious" to Bilbo, Gollum felt compelled to seek it out: "His longing for the Ring proved stronger than his fear of the Orcs, or even of the light" (page 56).

Perhaps most surprisingly, this ostensibly insensate object is some sort of sentient being. "A Ring of Power looks after itself," Gandalf tells his hobbit friend. "It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring that decided things" (page 54). When Frodo asks why the Ring selected Bilbo as its next owner, Gandalf offers an incomplete but compelling reply: "The Ring was trying to get back to its master" (page 54).

While studying Unit Four in class, students should be reading Book Two of The Lord of the Rings at home.

Unit Four Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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