Heroic Proportions

As my students met the character of Strider today, I wanted to prepare them for the heroic role he will later fulfill in the book.  I began the class by writing the question “what makes a hero” on the board.  To encourage a little bit of creativity in their responses, I asked them to respond to the question in the form of a recipe.  They were instructed to list the ingredients or attributes, either physical or personal, that would be required of a hero or heroine, with the option to write the steps required to fulfill that role.  As the students began brainstorming what they were going to write, I heard many of them focusing strictly on physical qualities and asked them to equally consider the personal attributes of a heroic character.  Some of the students asked if they could write a ‘recipe for a villain’, which I suggested we save for another lesson that could focus on some of the less savory characters in the book such as Sauron, Saruman, or Gollum.

Their responses were highly creative and entertaining, providing both insight on the importance of a protagonist and providing me with insight into what children today place value upon.

Oin– “How to make a hero:  1 cup of warm heart, 2 lbs. of love, 5 tons of bravery, 19 in. of muscle, 17 cm. of dead Gollum, a healthy food diet, a healthy body, a big heart, plus 10 million boxes of teddy bears, and 30 lbs. of candy.”

Ori– “Recipe for a hero:  5 cups bravery, honesty, smart mind, 5 cups of kindness, 2 cups sugar, a sweet heart, 50 gallons of blood, a brain, 3 cups courage, and muscles.  Get all the materials, mix and stir for 100 years.”

Some of my female students struggled to identify with a male hero so I gave them the option to write about a heroine, using examples such as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games or Merida from Disney’s Brave.  I am very anxious for my girls to encounter their first strong female character in Lord of the Rings as they seem to be struggling to find any girl-power in Tolkien, as of yet.  The Hobbit was severely lacking in ladies and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins hardly qualifies as a heroine, by any stretch of the imagination.

Balin– “Recipe for a heroine:  1 cup of honesty, 1 cup of bravery, 2 eggs, 4 cups of milk, 1 ton of sugar, 1 cup of fast runner, and 2 cups shiny lip gloss.”

Gloin– “Ingredients needed for a heroine:  bravery, honesty, strength, speed, sugar, teeth, beauty.  Take a big bowl and pour a gallon of beauty and 1 tsp. of teeth.  Add 2 gallons of sugar and pour in a fast runner that is strong, honest, and brave.”

My rather reticent students are allowing me to get to know them better through their written responses.  Bifur who only joined our class a few months ago and missed out on reading The Hobbit reveals a very spiritual awareness, that I find highly unusual for a child his age, in all of his comments.  “The ingredients of making a hero: 1) one pound of helmet powder. 2) 1000 lbs. and 1 oz. of muscle sugar. 3) four cups of handsomeness water. 4) 100,000 grams of love. 5) ten pounds of smartness and 1 oz. of dumbness.”  This is the third response I have received from Bifur where he expresses an idea in the form of magical water, as if he truly believes in its mystical powers.  This child rarely speaks out in class, so I am truly enjoying the personality-reveal that his writing provides for me.

Fili– “How to become a hero:  Step one-you need to be brave.  Step two-you need a secret hideout.  Step three-You need to be strong.  Step four-and also, you need an assistant.  Step five-one mouth, 2 eyes, 2 ears, and 1 nose.  Step six-you need to have good abs and muscles.

Bofur– “How to be a hero:  ingredients-abs, courage, swag, a snapback, handsome. Step 1-must work out. Step 2-be a man. Step 3-have style. Step 4-wear a snapback hat. Step 5-be handsome and get girls.”

I found it interesting that these last two responses, which strongly emphasize physical qualities but place little emphasis on personal attributes, were both from male students.  I would have expected my female students to focus on external appearance, but was truly surprised to hear my boys emphasize having “strong abs” and “swag”.  Clearly Bofur has been listening to a lot of hip hop music, but all of my students’ comments alarmed me with their predilection for physical over personal characteristics.  It really made me wonder “what are we teaching our children today”? I am truly afraid of the shallow lives they may go on to lead if they think it only matters what a person looks like on the outside.  If they are not the most popular kid at school or wear the most fashionable clothes, will they not feel that they have any value to offer to society?

While I hope The Lord of the Rings may teach them not to be so shallow with its illustration that sometimes the little guy wins, the real lesson I hope they learn is that being heroic is not about being a CGIed superhero or appearing like an air-brushed supermodel.  Truly heroic people are those that make self-less, often difficult choices, for the benefit of others, without giving into fear or intimidation.  I am hoping by the end of this book, my students will have fully taken this lesson to heart and strive to lead courageous lives of truly heroic proportions.

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One Comment on “Heroic Proportions”

  1. Margaret Dean
    April 4, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    Lobelia does have her moment, but it’s practically at the end of the book!

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