It’s Party Time!

Yesterday my students celebrated our completion of chapter 1 of Fellowship of the Ring, A Long-Expected Party. The children became enthralled with all the happenings in Hobbiton surrounding Bilbo and Frodo’s joint birthday celebration. We even integrated some math skills by adding Bilbo and Frodo’s ages to arrive at the number of guests invited to the party. Even though Tolkien gives the answer in the text, my inquisitive students would not be satisfied until they could check the answer for themselves.

After the recently televised Academy Awards ceremony last week in the US, Kili related that the hobbits’ party is like a red carpet event in Hollywood. Ori did not seem to understand the excitement surrounding the fireworks at the party. He wrote, “Why are fireworks in the Shire so rare? Why was everybody so happy when the fireworks were about to begin? Did they ever see fireworks before or maybe they had them a long time ago?” I believe Ori is observing Tolkien’s continued usage of songs in his works. As a very musical student who is always singing in my class, Ori chose to quote Katy Perry’s song Firework after his questions by writing “…ignite the light and let it shine, just own the night like the 4th of July…”

The students also seemed alarmed at the nutritional habits of hobbits. Bofur and Gloin both criticized the hobbits for their lack of physical fitness and gluttony. Kili wrote ” I think some of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s relatives are just there for the food because hobbits like to eat a lot.” Though most of the students found the Sackville-Bagginses to be rather distasteful characters, Dwalin said he could understand their jealousy of Frodo. Fearing Bilbo’s birthday speech would be long-winded, much as the hobbit guests also incorrectly assumed, Gloin predicted, “Bilbo is soooo old and he talks too much. I think he will give a long speech because the more he gets old, the more he talks.”

You could have heard a pin drop in my classroom once Bilbo mysteriously disappeared from his own party. Emotions ran high and my students became slightly uneasy as they perceived the distinct tone change in the text during the conversation between Gandalf and Bilbo over the ring. It seemed that they were truly afraid of the influence the ring holds over its owner. The character they had previously known from The Hobbit as a rather benign Bilbo become a character they feared as they read “his hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.” They could not comprehend how Bilbo could entertain the idea of killing his dear friend, Gandalf, because of a ring. I cannot wait for them to read about Gollum’s origins as Smeagol, which should give them further insight into the ring’s power over its possessor. Dwalin wrote, “Gandalf doesn’t want the ring because he is powerful and if he wears it, he will turn powerfully evil.”

It is a pleasant observation for a teacher to watch your students begin to blur the line between fantasy and reality as they become deeply involved in Tolkien’s world. At the mention of “my precious”, Kili said she was visualizing that Gollum was crouched under her chair. I’ve also noticed that after this week, my students are no longer referring to each other by their real names. I am not Ms. Rodgers. I am Gandalf to them now and they only want our character names used in class. They have even modified some of our reading practices. My students are used to popcorn reading, which is a game we play where a child reads until they wish to stop, at which time they say “popcorn” and the name of the student they wish to be the next reader. Now they say “hobbit” followed by the selected reader’s dwarf or hobbit name (see The Traveling Party page of the blog for a full listing of class character names).

As we continue reading, I plan to show the Peter Jackson films to them in short segments to enhance their comprehension of the text and allow them to draw comparisons between the movies and the books. Gloin wrote, “I can’t WAIT until we see the movies!” and apparently Kili has not been able to wait as she confessed to me that she had been “cheating” by watching film clips on Youtube, even though she promised she would wait until we watched them together. I cannot fault her for her honesty or enthusiasm.

My students also have begun to observe the British spellings of various words, which they initially thought were mistakes in the text. Every time they encounter a word with a few extra vowels, they stop and point it out to me. Dwalin made a great observation today, too, regarding Bilbo’s book. He wrote, “Bilbo wanted to finish his book because he is turning old. That book is the story The Hobbit that we read and also the book that Tolkien wrote. He must have felt just like Bilbo felt when he finished writing it,” hinting at his understanding of Tolkien’s intricate layering of a story within a story. As we reached our first checkpoint on the journey today, we hope you look forward to continuing your journey with us next week.

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