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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Two: Runes, Riddles, and a Ring of Power

Discussion Topics

Bilbo's Internal Conflict. A pivotal moment occurs in Chapter V, when our hero is about to stab Gollum to death. "A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish" (page 80). Have students ever experienced a flash of sympathy for someone they normally found annoying? Is it true that "To know all is to forgive all"? What keeps us from seeing the "hard stone, cold fish" that is the lot of so many people?

Measuring the Motifs. The first half of The Hobbit features several themes that the class may recognize from their earlier study of myths and fairy tales. When the morning sun turned the trolls to stone in Chapter II, did any students think of Medusa? Did Bilbo's reckless bargain with Gollum — if I win the riddle game, you aren't allowed to eat me — evoke the rash promise motif of "Rumpelstiltskin"? What other themes did students notice? The forbidden action? The well-earned reward? The descent into the underworld?

A Worldly Worm. In Chapter I, Thorin Oakenshield offers his low opinion of Smaug: "Dragons steal gold and jewels . . . and they guard their plunder as long as they live . . . and never enjoy a brass ring of it. Indeed they hardly know a good bit of work from a bad, though they usually have a good notion of the current market value" (page 22). Is it typical for creatures, humans in particular, to hoard their possessions without appreciating "a brass ring of it"? Are celebrities and billionaires especially vulnerable to this foible? Have students encountered people who "know the price of everything and the value of nothing"?

Being Wise to Ignorance. Early in Chapter IV, the narrator tells the reader, "Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the Edge of the Wild; and Gandalf was wise enough to know it" (page 53). Invite students to share anecdotes of their "best laid plans" going awry. Was the disaster a result of being "over the Edge of the Wild"? Can the class think of historical figures or fictional characters who lacked the wisdom to know their limitations?

A Hero Called Beowulf. After summarizing the plot of Beowulf for the class, ask students to infer the connections between this heroic epic and The Hobbit. In what ways does Beorn suggest Beowulf? If you have a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, you can show the class E. V. Gordon's conception of a Norse hall juxtaposed with Tolkien's own drawings of Beorn's abode (pages 122–123). Near the end of the lesson, distribute the "Beowulf and Grendel" handout and have students scan both renditions of the initial lines. At first glance Anglo-Saxon looks entirely foreign, but eventually students will notice the affinity between modern English and its ancestor.

Unit Two Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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