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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Nine: "The Quest Is Achieved"

Discussion Topics

The Areté of Aragorn. Two of the Grimm Brothers' tales included in this course, "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs" and "The Water of Life," are quest adventures in which a hero, after overcoming obstacles and enduring hardships, wins both a kingdom and a fair maiden — which is what happens to Aragorn. Ask students to identify those aspects of Aragorn's heritage, character, and behavior that make him something more than a fairy tale hero. On what occasions does he exhibit areté? When Aragorn catalogues Beregond's transgressions and then announces, "For these things, of old, death was the penalty" (page 947), did the class anticipate that the King's final verdict would be so just and noble?

The Tragedy of Frodo. Irreparably damaged by his decision to become a Ring-bearer, Frodo is eventually ennobled by his suffering, and so some critics have labeled him a tragic hero. Have the class chart the "fall" that Frodo endures over the course of the novel. How does this descent make him a better person? As the discussion progresses, you may want to juxtapose the Frodo who laments "What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature" (page 58) with the Frodo who responds to Saruman's knife attack by saying "Do not kill him even now" (page 996). How else did the Quest refine our hero? What do students make of his cryptic speech, "It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them" (page 1006)?

The Triumph of Sam. In his correspondence with a prospective editor, Tolkien called Sam "the chief hero" of the novel (Letter No. 131). Does the class agree with this judgment? As we reflect on the whole story, which of Sam's actions seem especially heroic? Some students may point to his battle with Shelob: "As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch" (page 713). No less impressive is Sam's decision to continue the Quest alone after Frodo has apparently died (page 715). For many readers, Sam's finest hour occurs when he resists the temptation to put on the Ring and transform the vale of Gorgoroth into a lush kingdom: "The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm" (page 881).

"The Shadow Has Departed." Unit One invited students to consider Tolkien's notion of the eucatastrophe, the "turn" that delivers the fairy tale protagonist from disaster, bringing joy to hero and reader alike. Critics have noted three such "positive reversals" in Book Six: Gollum's attack on Frodo at the Cracks of Doom (pages 925), Éowyn's realization that "the Shadow has departed" (page 943), and Aragorn's discovery of "a scion of the Eldest of Trees" (page 950). Have the class revisit these eucatastrophes. Which did students find the most moving? The most believable? In each case, what factors keep the reader from anticipating a joyous turn? How does Tolkien suggest that the "miracle" traces to something beyond blind chance?

Knife, Sting, and Tooth. During the long course of the Quest, Frodo is variously assaulted by the Witch-king, Shelob, and Gollum. "I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden," he tells Gandalf on page 967. "Where shall I find rest?" Have the class discuss Frodo's three wounds. Which hurt causes him the most anguish? Can any of these injuries compare with the psychic damage done by the Ring? Might we presume to map each wound onto one or more of Tolkien's themes: power, corruption, good, evil, freedom, destiny, despair, heroism, and so on?

"The Ring Is Mine!" An especially dramatic moment occurs when Frodo, standing on the brink of the Cracks of Doom, renounces his mission: "I do not choose now to do what I came to do," he says on page 924. "I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!" What do students think is going on here? In declining to relinquish the Ring, is Frodo really making a free choice? Did this sudden betrayal of the Quest come as a surprise to students? Does it diminish Frodo's status as a hero, or does it actually enlarge his achievement?

Unit Nine Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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