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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit One: Introducing Tolkien and His Worlds

Key Terms

oral tradition. The universal human practice of memorizing and performing stories: telling tales, singing ballads, reciting poems. Although the venue varies — campfire, fireside, kitchen, tavern, workplace, child's bedside — storytelling occurs throughout history. Myths, folktales, fairy stories, and heroic epics are rooted in the oral tradition. Each such narrative was written down only after thriving for generations in spoken form

Faerie (fay-ree). The perilous realm of magic and enchantment that overlaps the human sphere. In his letters and critical writings, J.R.R. Tolkien argued that a "fairy story" is characterized not by diminutive sprites called "fairies" but by an encounter between a human and the Faerie realm. From Faerie spring the dragons, ogres, giants, trolls, gnomes, elves, dwarfs, witches, wizards, and goblins who populate the classic fairy tales

myth. A traditional story about the relationship between mortal beings and the supernatural realm of gods, goddesses, wizards, enchantresses, and monsters. Every ancient society boasts a cycle of myths reflecting shared beliefs. The Greek myths are the most famous — Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, Jason and the Golden Fleece, and dozens of others — but Tolkien was inspired more by Norse mythology than by the Greek myths

folktale. A traditional episodic narrative transmitted orally within a society and between cultures. Such "fairy stories" as "Puss in Boots" and "Hansel and Gretel" are more properly termed folktales

heroic epic. A long poem recounting the deeds of a valiant warrior or courageous ruler. The epic hero represents the best in a nation; he is a beacon to his people. Examples include Gilgamesh (the exploits of the ancient Sumerian demigod), the Iliad (Homer's great narrative of the Trojan war), the Aeneid (concerning the founding of Rome), and the Song of Roland (from medieval France). A heroic epic is sometimes called a national epic or simply an epic poem

motif (moe-teaf). An important theme that appears frequently within a body of myths or tales or that recurs within a longer work. A common motif in fairy stories is the "impossible task" — an idea that lies at the heart of The Lord of the Rings. A common motif in myths is the "forbidden action," an idea that also figures crucially in Tolkien's novel

eucatastrophe (yew-cat-as-tro-fee) A term invented by Tolkien for the "good catastrophe" that typically resolves the plot of a Faerie narrative. The eucatastrophe is a joyous and wholly unexpected turn of events that delivers the hero or heroine from disaster. Mysterious in origin — fate? chance? luck? providence? — the eucatastrophe gives the fairy tale its happy ending

Unit One Content

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Key Terms
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