All in the Family

The theme that arose out of today’s reading was relationships. As some of the initial characters are being introduced in Chapter 1 of Fellowship of the Ring, my students are fascinated with how the characters’ lives interact within the setting of Middle-Earth and which characters have continued with us on our journey after reading The Hobbit.

Upon the arrival of Gandalf the Grey to Hobbiton, my students were so excited that they would get to read more about this beloved, yet mysterious character from The Hobbit. They often complained while reading The Hobbit that Gandalf would leave Bilbo and the dwarves to solve their own problems instead of offering assistance with his magical skills. While they eventually realized that Gandalf’s “tough love” approach to guiding Bilbo and the dwarves strengthened them as characters, I am curious to hear their reactions when they encounter the adventures of the fellowship in LOTR.

This launched us into a discussion of the different wizards in Tolkien’s works and how the color of the robes they wear, hints at their level of power or importance within the wizarding world. They remembered Radagast the Brown from Hobbit and compared and contrasted him with Gandalf. Some of them, that have seen the LOTR films, also talked about Saruman, as a wizard clothed in white, whose power is used for bad. Again, it will be interesting to see their reactions as events unfold in Two Towers and Gandalf transforms from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White. An interesting comparison that Dwalin voiced regarding wizards in Tolkien’s world was that the different-colored robes of the wizards could be likened to the colors of different martial arts belts indicating skill level. I was blown away by his insightful comment. Dwalin also concluded that Gandalf seems to know everything so he must be able to predict the future. He wrote in his steno pad, “I just can’t stop reading, such a GOOD book. It makes very much sense. It’s easier than The Hobbit.”

My students all seem to be in agreement that they are finding Lord of the Rings easier to comprehend and decode than The Hobbit. After only a few days of reading, I have made the same observation. While most Tolkien fans would definitively argue that Tolkien wrote Hobbit for a younger audience, therefore it should be easier to read; I have a theory as to why my students are finding the opposite to be true. Much as reading Shakespeare requires tuning your ear in to the language and rhythm of iambic-pentameter, so does Tolkien. My students were already tuned in to Tolkien’s writing style and use of language, so the foundation has already been laid for them to understand Lord of the Rings, despite its greater length and complexity in plot than The Hobbit.

The class was also fascinated by the deeper explanation of how Frodo came to live with Uncle Bilbo, who is really more of a father-figure to Frodo. They giggled loudly at the idea that Drogo, Frodo’s biological father, either drowned because of his own weight or the idea that his wife possibly pushed him into the Brandywine River.

My Kili, who seems to love writing her thoughts in her steno pad, had several great comments today. She wrote, “the words in LOTR are easier than The Hobbit because when we’re reading Hobbit, I would always ask what’s happening. But in LOTR, I’m answering my own questions.” She also shared, “I hope in LOTR, Frodo will go on an adventure just like Bilbo in The Hobbit” and “Right now, Sam is my favorite character because of his personality.” Kili’s reactions are particularly interesting to me as she has not watched any of the LOTR Peter Jackson films yet, which offers a truly fresh perspective on the text.

Perhaps Tolkien’s practice of infusing pictures with his words is having an influence on my students. I noticed that Oin had doodled in his steno pad a picture of a labyrinth and a caption next to it that said “good vocab=big words=like a maze.” What more could a teacher ask for?

2 Comments on “All in the Family”

  1. John Cowan
    February 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    Tolkien’s world has only five wizards: Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White, Radagast the Brown, and two more whose color was blue but whose names are not known. Tolkien thought that they probably went to the East and got mixed up with the Dark Lord.

    • hmrodgers
      February 27, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

      Thanks for the info on the other wizards. I’ll be sure to share with my students.

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