As my students began reading book 2 of Fellowship today and discovered their hobbit friends were all safely arrived in Rivendell, they were greatly relieved to have momentarily left the Ringwraiths behind. Partially inspired by my student, Ori, whose creative explorations of the text never cease to amaze me; I decided to prepare my students for some of the more villainous characters that will later factor into the story.
Ori enjoys making toys and dolls out of paper, clay, string, or anything he can get his hands on. Much to the chagrin of his teachers, he often has these items confiscated in class for concern they may become a distraction to himself and other students. He recently surprised me with this Gollum stick-puppet (pictured above), which was made using a pencil and a picture he found in a magazine while searching for photos needed for a collage project in Art class. I was greatly pleased with his creativity and enthusiasm for Lord of the Rings, and it inspired me with the idea to ask my students to describe the perfect villain. Similar to the response I solicited several weeks ago on a recipe for a hero, I wanted my students to describe a stereotypical villain, in broad terms. I suspect both their concepts of heroes and villains may be challenged as Tolkien creates rich characters that do not easily fall into such black and white categories. For example, Gollum may commit villainous acts, but his pathetic actions often persuade the reader and the other characters in both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to view him as more of a victim.
Under the heading “face of a villain”, I asked my students to describe what a villain should look like and draw a corresponding picture to capture their ideal bad guy. My responses were only from a male point-of-view, as all of my female dwarves happened to be absent today.
Their answers ranged from the specific…
Ori– “A really evil villain would need a big nose and bad eyes and big eyebrows and a stinky mouth with yellow teeth in it. He’d also have a big brain and a scar.”
Dwalin– “A villain will have short hair, big long eyebrows, a fat nose, a big mouth, a tiny moustache, a mole, grumpy eyes, an alien-looking face, and long ears.”
To the very non-specific…
Oin– “A villain should have a shiny face, a dark voice, and an evil laugh. He could have a short nose or a long nose or be bald or have lots of hair.”
Bifur– “A villain is ugly, stupid, a nerd, weak, and has a big head.”
Some students even felt all villains should have henchmen…
Bilbo– “A villain would have a big nose, a big head, scars, hair, and a moustache. He would be weak, have a servant, and be skinny.”
Bombur– “I think he looks like a killer…(because he’s a bad guy). I think he has blonde hair, an ugly nose, sunglasses, and a jacket. He will wear jeans and can talk to his servant with a hidden ear-piece. He’ll wear sneakers, too, and threaten to kill you.”
I found Bombur’s response to be the most detailed and was surprised how much he wrote considering he is the least English-proficient of all my students. He has very few responses in his steno pad and is very self-concious of his inability to construct grammatically-correct sentences, due to his unfamiliarity with English. I was so pleased at his extensive answer and the comic book-style drawing he created to go with it, complete with dialogue.
Since beginning this project, I have noticed an increase in my students’ overall responsiveness, awareness, and ability to pay attention to details. While catching up on the next segment of film that corresponded to what they have read so far, my students started to point out differences and similarities they noticed between the movie and the book. They were quite surprised by the replacement of Glorfindel with Arwen in the scene at the Bruinen River, but felt Arwen was like “nitro to those ugly Nazgul”. They also enjoyed hearing Viggo Mortensen sing and noticed he was talking about Beren and Luthien, who they just wrote about last week.
While evil can wear many faces, I believe Tolkien is causing my students to challenge their views on characters, human (or hobbit) nature, and help them to understand the motives that drive certain actions or inactions. They are becoming more critical thinkers, which is a skill that will serve them well in both their academic and professional careers. As we continue to read, I hope they will continue to reflect on the text and apply that same attention to detail into self-reflection that may lead them on their own exciting journies through life.