Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Power was the theme of today’s reading focus as we continued to make our way through chapter 2 of Fellowship.  As my students read of the ring’s origins with its creator Sauron, we were faced with the timeless pursuit of power and the natural desire of mankind to possess it.  Stories with themes of desiring power at all costs are not new to my students.  As young Shakespeareans, they are familiar with stories such as Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III and are well-aware of the moral lessons contained in those plays.

As we read of Sauron’s creation of the one ring, I posed the following question to my students:  Is it good or bad to desire power? I gave my students the option to speak directly to Sauron’s quest for power in answering this question or to make a connection to something else with a similar theme.  I received a variety of very creative and personal responses, some of which I will share:

Dwalin -“It’s a bad thing to want power because people become your slaves and you will probably destroy the planet.”

Bilbo-“It’s a bad idea to take over Middle-Earth because once you take over that you will be bored.  Sauron will ultimately fail in his plan, just like Hitler did.”

Kili-“Smaug and Sauron are alike to me because Smaug took the dwarves’ gold and Sauron made the ring so they both did something bad.  Sauron wants to take over Middle-Earth because the more people that get bad, the more power he has because everyone will follow his rules.”

Ori-“Sauron wants the power to rule the world but nobody can rule the world except God.  Nobody can have power because everybody should be equal.  A lot of people with power treat other people below them.”

Thorin-“Sauron wants to rule Middle-Earth because he wants everybody to listen to him.”

Gloin-“I think some people want power because they want their sons or daughters to continue to have power after they die.”

I think these responses reflect a real cross-section of perspectives from my students.  Bilbo was actually not the only child to see a correlation between Middle-Earth’s mythology and actual history.  While my students know nothing of Tolkien’s views on war yet, they have observed enough of it in their own lives, as many of their families are immigrants from war-torn nations.  Dwalin came to my classroom two years ago fresh out of a refugee camp in Syria after leaving war-torn Iraq.  I have several students from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have all seen their share of the war on terror.  My South Korean students are well-aware of the animosity with their neighbor North Korea, which continues to be prevalent in their culture long after the Korean War.  My students are definitely not too young to perceive the injustices that often arise for citizens of countries whose leaders choose to leave their desire for power un-checked, and of which war is often the indirect result.

As well as their own perspectives on war and power, my students and I have read other books together that allow us to see the fatal flaw in mankind.   Bilbo and Ori both immediately connected the character of Sauron with Hitler from reading The Diary of Anne Frank last year.  Even though the subjects of the Holocaust and World War II are difficult ones to approach with young students, they can be comprehended with great compassion and sensitivity by children when they are understood from the perspective of another child.  My students easily relate to Anne Frank because she clearly illustrates for them the destructiveness of those who desire power at the devastation of others.  As insightful as they are, I do not think I will have to draw their attention to Tolkien’s allegories for war.

Other anecdotes of note occurred today including the mysterious appearance of additional copies of Lord of the Rings.  Due to the cost of the books, I could only afford to purchase one paperback for every two children, resulting in each child having a “book buddy”.  Nori happened to have her own personal copy, which she had asked if she could bring back and forth every day to class.  The other children have been looking at her enviously as we read and today I noticed that three of my students had gone to the public library to secure their own copies.  Some of them are even re-reading The Hobbit and are encouraging their younger siblings, who I also teach, to try Tolkien.  My students also continue to latch on to the figurative language in Fellowship.  They focused on the sentence, “Fear seemed to stretch out a vast hold, like a dark cloud rising in the East and looking up to engulf him”, identifying it as containing both personification and simile usage.

After her true confession last week over sneaking LOTR youtube clips, Kili proudly told me today that she showed restraint at watching Lord of the Rings on TV when it aired this weekend.  Her little brother was watching it and she immediately ran upstairs and locked herself in her room so she wouldn’t be tempted.  She still needs to work on her self-restraint in other areas though.  While we were reading today, she blurted out that she saw on the next page that it talks about Gollum being called Smeagol.  She asked me if we could skip ahead and go right to that part.  Silly Kili!

Kili is a natural leader and often offers help, whether solicited or not, in maintaining classroom control.  Some of my boys were being a little rowdy today upon entering class and Kili shouted, “Bad dwarves!  You’ll be getting no food for the rest of the day!”  Perhaps she is getting a little too into the books as today she was imagining the Nazgul were under her seat, much like her fear of Gollum last week.  This prompted Dwalin to tease her by putting the hood of his coat over his face and pretending to be a Ringwraith just to taunt her.

As the subject of the Ringwraiths was brought up, some of my students argued that Gollum could be just as vulnerable to Sauron’s control as Frodo is, but he doesn’t ever perceive himself to be in fear of being hunted down.  Some felt it could be because the ring has corrupted his mind so much that he is unaware of the dangers it causes.  Frodo, they felt, was more pure and therefore more susceptible to the Nazgul.

When we finally arrived at the story of Smeagol and Deagol, without skipping ahead as Kili suggested, my students were enraptured by the mysterious murder.  Some said “oh my gosh!” as they read of Gollum’s beginnings and pointed out again the desire for power and respect leading to grave and fatal actions.  We chose to end our reading for today here and may not get to read again for a few days as we are anticipating a snow storm, which may cancel school tomorrow.  Somehow I suspect it will take more than snow to stop my intrepid band of readers.

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4 Comments on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”

  1. John Cowan
    March 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Tom Shippey points out that the expression “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a very modern one; the idea hardly existed before the middle of the nineteenth century. Before that, people tended to think of great men being entrusted with great power with no suggestion that it would inevitably damage or destroy them. Indeed, the Old English version of the saying is “A man shows what he is, when he can do what he wants”, which is a very different idea: power reveals, rather than corrupts, character, which is thought of as something inborn and immutable.

  2. Troelsfo
    April 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Wonderfully perceptive class!

    I do think that in Tolkien the idea of desire for power should often be qualified as the desire for more power than one’s natural due. A lot of characters in Tolkien’s work has power — some of them much power — and use it too (Gandalf, Tom Bombadil, Aragorn, …), but those who stay good are those who do not seek more power than that which is ‘naturally’ theirs.

    In some ways I think this seems to strike some middle way between the modern and the ancient views.

    • hmrodgers
      April 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

      They are a pretty, bright bunch!

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