“He gave out that he was interested in history and geography (at which there was much wagging of heads, although neither of these words were much used in the Bree dialect…and that he and his friends wanted to collect information about hobbits living outside the Shire, especially in the eastern lands.”
As my class returned from spring break vacation this week, we resumed our reading with chapter 9, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony, whereupon the hobbits enter Bree. While my students were eager to talk of their travels during their holiday, they were also eager to follow the hobbits’ travels. We looked through the appendices to find Tolkien’s maps of Middle-Earth and located Bree’s proximity to The Shire. Most students were surprised at what little distance the hobbits have traveled on the map compared to how long it seems they’ve been on their journey. Some students looked ahead at some of the other maps for later parts of the journey and were able to empathize with Frodo as the distance to Mordor seems impossible to reach and to read. I keep reassuring my students that Frodo will make it and so will we.
The theme of today’s lesson was geography, inspired by you, the readers of our blog. During my brief respite from school, I took some time to review the stats on our blog, which show the great diversity of our readership and are a true testimony to the universal appeal of Tolkien. For our first day back, I thought my students would appreciate an interdisciplinary learning experience incorporating both map-reading and language-based skills. I thought this brief diversion would stimulate their interest in reading, which may have waned after a week off of school, and allow them to see the impact they are having on the diverse body of Tolkien fans around the world.
Using a box of push-pins and some twine, we decided to track the concentration of our readers on our classroom world atlas. We discovered our greatest number of readers are in the United States, so my students inserted the first pin there and then pulled the string north to Canada. Using this lesson as a teachable moment, I tried to provide my students with a few facts about each country, such as the languages spoken there or noted geographic features of each area. Our third-highest concentration of readers was in New Zealand. My students were extremely excited to have to measure out more string to trace a south-eastern path across the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, Indian Ocean, and Australia to finally reach New Zealand. They were initially surprised at the number of readers we have there, until I shared with them that all of the Peter Jackson adaptations were filmed there and that as a result, New Zealand has become the honorary ‘home of Middle-Earth’.
My students were elated when they discovered they had followers from their own countries. I allowed the students who had cultural connections to the countries we were identifying to have the honor of inserting the pin into their homeland. Although our lesson today spent more time on the map than in the text, it allowed my students to see that what they’re doing is significant and having a positive influence on others. Thank you for providing my students with that lesson and for sharing the blog with fellow Tolkien fans. We will continue to showcase you in our classroom and view our atlas as a work-in-progress. Teaching Tolkien welcomes everyone!