As the hobbits were reunited in Rivendell with Many Meetings, my students were enthusiastic to become reacquainted with some of their favorite characters from The Hobbit, Bilbo and Gandalf. With the recent stressors my students have experienced in terms of test performance pressure and preparation, I believe emotions influenced by the text were more keenly felt by my readers in this chapter. All of them agreed that it felt “so good” to read today, after begging me all of last week when they were forced to complete other more pressing and less preferred tasks. With the unresolved ending of book 1 of Fellowship, some of my students were truly fearful for Frodo’s future. They were greatly relieved to read about his recovery in Rivendell and to know that true to his word; Gandalf had returned.
Resuming their reading routine after a brief respite from testing provided my students with an opportunity to clear their minds and escape into Middle-Earth to hear about someone else’s troubles, for a change. While they seem to be pleased with the current safety and shelter that is offered to Strider and the hobbits for the time being, my students have been forewarned that the lull in the danger of their mission is only temporary.
Entering the realm of the elves, Dwalin and Bilbo both noted that immortal creatures are depicted in similar ways when comparing the Lord of the Rings films to those of The Twilight Saga. They felt that the immortal nature of the elves is literally illuminated by the glow or aura that seems to surround them on-screen. My students were reminded of Twilight because its vampires sparkle in the sunlight, which gives away their unique status to mere mortals. They also thought that glowing and sparkling could each represent perfection, which immortals usually possess.
My students giggled loudly when it was recounted what had become of the dwarves from The Hobbit, particularly Bombur who “was now so fat that he could not move himself from his couch to his chair at table, and it took six young dwarves to lift him.” They also noted significant weight loss among other shorter-statured members of Middle-Earth. When Frodo looked in the mirror and noticed he had lost weight since his departure from The Shire, Kili said, “I never knew hobbits could lose weight. I thought they could only gain it since they all like to eat so much and are all pretty fat.”
Perhaps not reading for a few days has caused my students’ decoding skills to get a little rusty. We had some rather humorous miscues today that resulted in some rather comical misinterpretations of the text. Bilbo misread farthings for fartings, which began a conversation of whether hobbits were capable of flatulence. The majority of the class believed they were, myself included. Then when reading verses of Bilbo’s song at the feast, my Bilbo again misread the word ebony as ebay, resulting in laughter from everyone and curiosity as to what hobbits would buy on Ebay, if they’d had internet retailers in Middle-Earth. The students speculated that they might have purchased cloaks, as they noticed both Bilbo and Strider were momentarily hidden from the reader by their veiled appearance later to be revealed by the removal of their hoods in this chapter. Bilbo said that these cloaks reminded him of the hijab or head-covering that women in his country, Pakistan, wear. The tension Tolkien created was almost too much for Kili, as she squealed in anticipation that the mystery man might be Bilbo. His reunion with Frodo, I must admit, was a little emotional for all of us and I was eager for my students to be surprised by his strange reappearance.
Though the material is not new to me, it still amazes me how each time I read the text, new implications become more apparent. When Bilbo says, “Ah, there you are at last, Dunadan,” referring to Strider, it never occurred to me until today that Tolkien may be playing with words by his successive use of the words last and Dunadan that hint at Aragorn’s status as the last chieftain of the Dunadain. My students also never cease to amaze me with the cute and clever ways they have of interpreting the text. Kili made me chuckle when she referred to the ents as “those tree-talkers”.
My class enjoyed experiencing Tolkien with some of their younger classmates after school today when all of my ESL students celebrated being “super-readers”. Each year my students participate in Book-It!, which is an American reading incentive program that I also took part in as a child. As part of this program, students set reading goals for six months, receive monthly rewards, such as free pizza, and attain super-reader status if they achieve their individual goals. This year all 30 of my ESL students, half of which are not in this class, met their goals. To celebrate their accomplishments, I annually host a super-reader party for them, at which they select the menu, a movie, and receive free gently-used books I purchase from library book sales to create enthusiasm for continued summer reading. Many of my students are socio-economically disadvantaged, so books are a luxury item for their families. These books may be the only ones they can call their own.
This year my students chose to view The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. For most in this class, it was a second viewing since we viewed it in the theater together, but my younger third-grade students had never seen it before. Many of them are younger siblings of the students in this class and were anxious to see what all this “Tolkien-fuss” was that they’d been hearing about at home for the last few months. It was quite heart-warming to see them bonding over Bilbo Baggins for three hours while feeding their minds and their bodies with free books and free pizza. What more could a kid ask for!