Today could have been a rather dismal, dreary day for my students. First of all, it’s a Monday, which means the beginning of a new school week, and our lovely spring weather was pushed aside today by some passing showers, resulting in a rather overcast demeanor from most passing faces in the halls. Due to more schedule disruptions, my skeleton crew of students has learned to carry on with our literary mission, regardless of who is present for class that day. My students constantly amaze me with their ability to make the most out of each class session, in such ways that we may encourage each other in our common goal.
We reached a new record low for class attendance today as 11 out of my 13 dwarves were unable to attend class due to either schedule conflicts, testing, or illness. Surprisingly enough Bilbo and Kili were the only members left in our traveling party, resulting in one of my favorite class sessions of all. While we missed the rest of our company, the discussions and comprehension of the text today were incredibly insightful, which led to more spontaneous responses from my two students.
Though we covered most of The Council of Elrond last Friday, we did not manage to make it through the entire chapter in one class session. My mission today was to finish that chapter and have my students view up to the end of disc 1 of Fellowship, the film, which corresponds to the same material in the text. As we are nearing the 25% completion mark on our class-progress chart, we also realize we must pick up the reading pace if we are to reach our destination in the next 7-8 weeks. Meeting this self-imposed deadline amidst the series of standardized-tests occurring this coming month is going to pose a creative challenge, but their classroom teachers have agreed to let me “kidnap” them the last few weeks of school and have daily read-a-thon sessions, if necessary.
Despite the low attendance, Bilbo and Kili, entered my classroom ready to read and independently armed themselves with their steno pads and books, resuming where we left off on Friday. Bilbo had also taken the time to make his own pair of “elf-ears” (pictured) since the hobbits were now in Rivendell. There should have been enough time to finish the last few pages of the chapter within our given class time, however Bilbo and Kili had so many great questions and comments which delayed our progress. We discussed whether Gandalf made the right choice by not surrendering to Saruman’s offer for joint power. We discussed the pros and cons of the decision and students connected it to moral dilemmas in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They also made a text-to-text connection between Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter books, comparing all of the Defence Against the Dark Arts professors to Saruman’s deep knowledge of the “arts of the enemy”. They felt it was difficult to study “black magic without being sucked in by its power”.
My students were very interested in the new character of Boromir. They already sense a danger in his over-confidence in the ability of men to wield the power of “the One” ring. Bilbo compared him to Gollum, saying that if Boromir continues to “mess with the ring”, he will become destroyed by it in the same way. With three pages left to go in the chapter, unfortunately it was time for class to end. As lunch time was approaching, both Bilbo and Kili asked if they could go purchase their lunch in the cafeteria and bring it back to my room so we could finish the chapter together and watch the end of part 1 of Fellowship. Delighted that they willingly chose to stay on track with our journey, of course, I encouraged them to eat with me. True to hobbit form, I found them sharing food with me and each other and making sure our dining and reading experiences were truly pleasant ones.
Even though my class setting was not ideal, it really was a perfect day for me. I got to experience Tolkien in an even more intimate setting with my students, who in much smaller numbers, felt free to discuss every aspect of the book that struck their fancy. We were comfortable; even putting our bare, non-hairy hobbit feet up on the table while we read, chatted, and munched, feeling more like an at-home reading experience rather than one in a formal academic setting. Knowing the home-loving nature of the hobbits, I suspect that may be exactly the way Tolkien intended for his books to best be enjoyed.