An Attitude Adjustment

There is much to be said about the state of mind affecting the way one approaches a book.  As Emily Dickinson wrote, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”  Escaping into a book can do much to alter state of mind and conversely, coming to a story in an altered state of mind can impede its message from affecting the reader.  As I’ve observed my students’ reading over the last two weeks, I’ve been able to realize how the events of both their personal and academic lives influence their approach towards Lord of the Rings.  If they have been stressed at school or home due to external pressures, they may look forward to our reading time together as a solid hour when they can vacate their minds and simply enter and submit to Tolkien’s influence.  If they’re a bit over-stimulated from something exciting occurring that day, then they may be more reluctant to engage in a sedentary activity such as reading.  To be an effective language arts instructor, the teacher must perceive these frequent changes in his/her students as they approach the material, in order for them to have the most comprehensive literary experience.

Even though we experienced a snowstorm last week, it cannot be denied that spring is on its way.  As warmer weather approaches and daylight stretches longer, my students are becoming restless to engage in more outdoor activities.  Never one to ignore the siren call of spring, I believe in frequently taking my students out-of-doors to experience literature.  This weekend I went to Barnes & Noble bookstore to purchase some Hobbit bookmarks for my students.  I purchased a selected assortment of characters from the film and also found a 75th anniversary commemorative tote bag, in case we decided to embark on a real journey with our books.

Our latest Hobbit gear

Our latest Hobbit gear

My students became highly motivated to read with their additional Tolkien materials.

The boys showing off their bookmarks

The boys showing off their bookmarks

The coolest bookmarks ever!!!

The coolest bookmarks ever!!!

As we discussed the warmer weather, I told them we may soon be able to enjoy Lord of the Rings out-of-doors, and perhaps partake of a “second breakfast”, although my students would be more inclined to eat pizza than savor “mince-pies and cheese”.

While the steno pads, I provided, are proving to be an effective way for my students to share their questions with me, as Thorin wrote today, “How can Bilbo really be 128 years old?”; they are also proving to be a medium for meddling.  As many of the characters in Tolkien’s books seem to accurately depict the vast gamut of human traits, good and bad, my students are beginning to display the same tendencies as their literary counterparts.  Bofur took it upon himself to use his steno pad to vent his frustration with Ori over being a “book hog”.  Bofur apparently felt that Ori was not giving other students a chance to read, as he wrote “Ori reads so much!  He read like 3-4 paragraphs.  That is too much!!”  While I suppose it is my job to enforce reading equality in my classroom, I find it rather difficult to stop a “book hog”  when they’re reading with such expression and completely engaged in the text.  Balin also had an interesting comment today as she asked “why couldn’t there be girl dwarves in The Hobbit”, signifying her desire to see some girl-power among Tolkien’s protagonists.  I assured her that in Lord of the Rings she will encounter some very powerful heroines such as Eowyn, Arwen, and Galadriel.  Then an interesting discussion ensued as to how different The Hobbit‘s journey would have been had females been involved.  Ori and Gloin presumed there would have been a lot more nails, hair, and make-up.  We all giggled at the absurdity of cosmetics being a part of Middle-Earth and the students asked me if they could further explore the idea through a comedic sketch to post on the blog.  While I assured them we needed to prioritize reading the book over exploring Tolkien’s works with, I’m afraid, rather irreverent dramatic interpretations; I said we might possibly have time to do something like that towards the end of the school year.  Stay tuned!

Ori, who has a naturally sunny disposition, asked today if he could write me a note in his steno pad and draw a picture.  I told him that would be fine and was touched by what he wrote, “Thank God you let us read The Hobbit.  All of us said that it’s too big.  But we enjoyed it so much and we loved it.  Kili said, ‘it’s going to be so boring’ and now she’s a really big fan of Lord of the Rings.” His picture (shown below) depicts how the character of Bilbo might have felt after hearing of Kili‘s conversion process from Tolkien-depressed to Tolkien-obsessed.   I’m so pleased that Ori took the time to express his thoughts, which allowed me to reflect on how motivation is such a key factor in getting students to buy-in to the magic of reading.

Ori's social commentary on Kili's conversion to uber-Tolkien fan.

Ori’s social commentary on Kili’s conversion to uber-Tolkien fan.

My students and I are motivating each other as we attempt to achieve an incredible academic feat.  We are motivated by the challenge of reading a very lengthy book in a finite amount of time.  We are motivated by the supportive comments we receive on this blog, from all of you, as readers.  The actions of the fellowship of characters we are reading about motivate us to see that a seemingly impossible task can be achieved through teamwork.  My students are motivated by each other’s attitudes towards reading and my attitude towards them.  In this sense, we must rely on one another, much as the characters in Lord of the Rings depend on each other to successfully destroy the ring, if we are to have any hope of completing our literary journey.

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8 Comments on “An Attitude Adjustment”

  1. John Cowan
    March 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    Tolkien tells us that legal adulthood for Hobbits is at age 33; it was 21 for Men in Tolkien’s day. So multiplying a Hobbit’s age by 2/3 seems to be the right thing. That gives us Bilbo’s age as 85 in “human years”.

    When you can, please do pass through some of your students’ other questions! I love answering them.

    • hmrodgers
      March 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Thanks, John! I read your response to my students and they came up with two more questions for you:

      How many total dwarf and hobbit characters are mentioned between The Hobbit AND Lord of the Rings?

      Why are the Nazgul afraid of elves and elf-singing? (referring to the events in Chapter 3 of Fellowship)


  2. John Cowan
    March 15, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    Well, wow. An awful lot, anyway. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Freddy Bolger, Lobelia, Pimple, well, time to stop trying to remember and look it up. gives the name of every Hobbit that Tolkien even mentions, more than two hundred of them. (How did I find that page? I googled for [Hobbits list]). Going down that list for Hobbits with speaking roles, there’s Rosie Cotton and her father, the Gaffer, Odo Proudfoot, Cock-robin the Shirriff, Ted Sandyman, and perhaps some more. There may also be Hobbits who say a line or two but aren’t named.

    There’s a similar list at , 53 altogether. Major characters? Besides the thirteen from The Hobbit, we also have Dain Ironfoot and Gimli. Mîm is also a very important Dwarf character, but he’s in The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s other book about Middle-earth.

    I think there are two reasons that the Nazgul are frightened. First, they depend for a lot of their power on being able to create fear in other people. But the Nazgul are basically the souls of dead Men, and we learn later on that Elves do not fear the dead. Second, these particular Elves are High Elves, who (as is said later of Glorfindel) “do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds [that is, the human world and the spirit world], and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power.” (Book 2, Chapter 1)

    • hmrodgers
      March 15, 2013 at 1:51 am #

      Wow, John! My students will be ecstatic tomorrow when I share your answers. Thanks so much for taking time to respond to them.

      • Troelsfo
        April 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

        With apologies to John, I have to register my disagreement with the idea that the Ringwraiths are “souls of dead Men”

        The Ringwraiths are quite explicitly not dead (this is the point of calling them UNdead), nor are they disembodied: their bodies are merely invisible, and their lives have been stretched far beyond the point where there is nothing left — remember Bilbo’s comment about feeling like butter that has been scraped over too much bread: well, for the Ringwraiths their lives have been scraped over so many years that there really is nothing left: they just keep stretching that nothing further and further.

  3. John Cowan
    March 15, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    Oops,the URLs went away. They are the Wikipedia pages called “List of Hobbits” and “List of Middle-earth Dwarves”.

    • hmrodgers
      March 15, 2013 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks, John! We’ll be sure to check them out!

  4. Troelsfo
    April 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Your students may also enjoy some of the information from Emil Johansson’s “LotR Project” website: (linking directly to the statistics where there’s a figure showing the number of each race that Tolkien names) – Tolkien named 141 male hobbits and 71 female (many of these appear only in the family trees in the appendices to ‘The Lord of the Rings’)

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