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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Seven: Tolkien's Moral Universe

Suggested Activities

Virtues and False Virtues. Aristotle taught that a virtue differs not only from a vice but also from a "false virtue." Courage, for example, is the opposite of both cowardice and the faux virtue of recklessness. Ask the class to generate a list of their favorite virtues and then consider whether each has a problematic complement. Record the results in the form of a blackboard chart or a computer-generated diagram. Did students decide that humility, honesty, diligence, loyalty, or even charity can be pushed too far? What are the differences between Sam's fidelity to Frodo and the Nazgûl's fealty to Sauron? When a person makes a moral choice in Tolkien's universe, is he obeying a rule, or is he following his nature?

Slinker Meets Stinker. Book Four gives us several scenes of Gollum conversing with his Sméagol side. Have the students pair up. Each team should prepare a drama improvisation based on an internal conflict from the novel, with the two students playing two different voices in the character's head. The possibilities include Frodo's impulse to escape the Barrow-wight by becoming invisible, Boromir's desire to bear the Ring to Gondor, and Aragorn's uncertainty over whether to follow Frodo or pursue the orcs who abducted Pippin and Merry. Might Saruman have experienced a twinge of internal conflict when Gandalf visited him after the flooding of Isengard?

No Sympathy for Sauron. Ask the class to imagine that the school's principal is running against Sauron for state governor. The students' job is to produce posters, pamphlets, bumper stickers, and television spots that will win votes for the former. The aim is less to valorize the principal than to point out that his opponent behaved badly while dictator of Mordor. Do the resulting anti-Sauron slogans and insults sound like contemporary campaign rhetoric? What would Tolkien say to a politician who believes that all his critics hail from Barad-dûr?

Harmony, Disharmony, and Manichaeism. In the opening pages of The Silmarillion, reproduced in the handout called "The Discord of Melkor," Tolkien presents evil as analogous to disharmony in music. Ask the musically inclined students to bring their clarinets, keyboards, and other instruments to class. Invite this ad hoc band to play a familiar melody — "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," "Happy Birthday to You," "Pop Goes the Weasel" — as harmoniously as possible. Next the group should perform the piece again, this time trying for maximum discord. After the noise dies down, have the class discuss whether cacophony is indeed a good metaphor for evil. You might point out that in a Manichaean universe half of the musical instruments would be engineered to produce only dissonance.

Unit Seven Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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