An inspirational story has the potential to directly influence and transform the lives of all who allow themselves to fully submit to its power. This requires the reader to be open to the message the writer conveys, the imagination to place yourself in the setting of the story, and the ability to connect and empathize with the characters. In this sense, stories require a small amount of personal sacrifice on behalf of the reader because you have to be readily available to the material to allow these amazing things to happen. Since the theme of sacrifice is one that is central to Lord of the Rings, my students are slowly beginning to allow that transformation to occur as I have observed them making small sacrifices this week on behalf of our literary mission.
Though their sacrifices are small, I have been touched by the enormous amount of energy and effort my students have put into pursuing this book series. Some students have made their parents take them to the book store this week to use their allowance money to acquire more Tolkien materials, demonstrating their willingness to make a financial sacrifice. Nori volunteered to spend this weekend sacrificing both her time and artistic talents to make our class a poster to chart our reading progress as we make our way through the trilogy. Yesterday several of the children willingly gave up their outdoor recess time, which is one of the most sacred moments of the day to an elementary school student (particularly for boys), to allow us to continue reading so we could finish chapter 2. Ori even sacrificed some of his academic time, dedicated to writing, in his pursuit of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Ori is one of the children who quickly secured his own copy of Fellowship and has been recently spotted with it in class, the cafeteria, and anywhere else he can proudly show others what he is reading. When I walk into their general education classrooms (as I am just their language arts teacher who is only responsible for them one hour per day), I see that most of them have their book copies prominently displayed on their desks for all of their envious classmates to see. In my classroom, Ori has become easily distracted by the presence of his own copy. Earlier in the week, I had threatened to take away his book because he was choosing to play with the cover of it while he was supposed to be preparing for an upcoming writing assessment. Then yesterday, while my students were taking a writing test, I was startled from sitting at my desk grading papers to the sound of someone whispering, “Tolkien….Tolkien” in a very Gollum-like voice. I looked up and noticed the strange sounds were coming from Ori who was choosing to skim through his book rather than focus on his writing assessment. I said, “didn’t I tell you earlier that I was going to take your book away if I caught you playing with it again?” “No, Ms. Rodgers,” he solemnly said, “you only said you were going to take it away, but you never did.” “Well, now I really mean it,” I said, as I did my best to suppress a laugh. While I was disappointed that he was choosing to misuse his writing time, it gave me a secret sense of delight to see that he has become so single-purposed in his mission to read. This is proof enough of the transformative power of literature.
Some clarification of vocabulary words arose out of some of our reading discussions this week. We discussed that Gollum was obsessed with the ring and several students voiced that they did not know what the word obsessed meant. I defined the word within the context of the story and several of the students chose to use the word in sentences to verify that they correctly understood its meaning. “You mean, kind of like how I’m obsessed with Kili?” asked my Kili, whose namesake she is clearly obsessed with after viewing the handsome actor who portrayed him in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.
Origin became another significant word today as we traced the ring’s origins from Sauron to Frodo. In their steno pads I gave my students the option to demonstrate their knowledge of the ring’s path of ownership in narrative or graphic format. Bombur, very new to writing English, attempted to write his in paragraph-form (pictured below).
Ori, whose main expressive medium is drawing, chose to illustrate his response in five distinct sections representing Gollum’s descent into madness.
Kili described the path of the ring as “a great cycle”, which was quite observant, as well as making a text-to-text connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (another perennial favorite in my classroom), by observing a similarity in Gollum’s drinking of blood and lurking outside of windows to a vampire. Then she made all of us laugh when she confused Isildur’s name with Istanbul, Turkey. She gave one further insight by saying, “I think the title of chapter 2, The Shadow of the Past, means when Deagol died, his shadow hasn’t been forgotten.” While I believe Tolkien meant the title to have more significance than just revealing Deagol’s death, I believe Kili has properly peeled back the first intricate layer of sub-text, which only maturity and experience as a reader can more deeply reveal. While I had read these books when I was younger, I am discovering new insights now, at a different point in my life, as both a student and teacher of Tolkien. The lessons we are all learning from Tolkien are enlightening, and in the words of Gollum, the worth of that is truly “precious”.