As my students flew through the last chapter of Fellowship book 1, Flight to the Ford, we paused a moment to contemplate the story Strider shares with the Hobbits about Beren, a mortal man, in love with the immortal Elf-maiden, Luthien. I was curious to hear what my students had to say about such an unconventional relationship and felt it would be an interesting element of the story to foreshadow the relationship they will later view in the film between Arwen and Aragorn.
I asked my students to write “love him or leave him” in their steno pads and respond to how they would handle a decision to choose love over immortality. Though too young to understand the dynamics at play in such a relationship, their responses were refreshing, nonetheless.
Ori– “Leave him because for me no matter what happens, I am not gonna give my life for a girl. You know what….that’s stupid!” (It should also be noted that I really had to sift through Ori’s notes to find his response amidst his newest comic-strip adaptation of Tolkien called “Baby Bilbo”)
Balin and Nori– (both students had identical responses) “I’m going to choose to leave him because I want to live forever.”
Gloin-“I think she should leave him because she could like someone else and still be alive.”
Bofur– “Leave him so she can live forever and never die.”
Bifur– “I will love him because when later she’s about to die, then she’ll kill him and murder him. Then they’ll both be dead and they’ll be together anyway. So it’s a win-win!”
My students are not unfamiliar with the concept of star-crossed lovers. As regular practitioners of Shakespeare, most of them have read Romeo and Juliet and understand the complications that can arise from forbidden love. They needn’t look to the Elizabethan era to find relatable examples. Many of my students, male and female, enjoy reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and watching the film adaptations. They view the characters of Edward, a vampire, and Bella, a human, as star-crossed lovers and have often referenced them when we are reading Romeo and Juliet. They also enjoy the further complications that arise from the love triangle created by Jacob, a werewolf. Most Twilight fans fall into three categories: Team Edward, Team Jacob, or Team Switzerland, based on who you think Bella should select. I found it interesting that my students also demonstrated preference along the same lines when responding to Beren and Luthien’s relationship, even including a Team Switzerland response arguing for neutrality.
Oin– “Neither. The elf should find an elf and the human should find a human.”
While I found all of their responses rather entertaining, the real entertainment this week was the celebration of the progress we are making in the book. After completing book 1 of Fellowship, we are 1/6 of the way to reaching our reading goal. My students enjoyed ceremoniously marking our progress on our classroom poster.
My students also celebrated a special event at school this week. I believe their enjoyment of the festivities was greatly enhanced by their exposure to Tolkien. Every year we host “Medieval Day”, where students dress in medieval costumes, hock their home-made wares in the faire, engage in jousting using a hippity hop ball, and have an authentic medieval feast. While not directly related to Tolkien, I believe my students are being conditioned to appreciate ye olden times with an appreciation for older literary works such as Shakespeare’s plays and medieval literature that influenced such great writers as Tolkien.
I believe Tolkien is conditioning my students in other ways, too. This week, Bombur, completed his student-assessment portfolio, which he has been diligently working on for months. As he carefully handed it to me, he cleverly quoted the Fellowship film as he looked me squarely in the eye and said, “keep it secret, keep it safe.” As we wrap-up for the weekend, I think it is safe to say that their love for Tolkien is not going to leave them anytime soon.