With four weeks left until the end of the school year, I am reminded of how tired we teachers get as we drag ourselves to the finish line. Much as weary Frodo felt as the ring become heavier along the journey, I am also beginning to feel the burden. While our reading journey has been a blast, guiding my dwarves on their mission has been a juggling act with the normal end-of-the-year intensity and increasing school duties. My students and I have a very good rapport and a strong relationship built on trust, which allows us to intuitively sense how we can best work together as a team. When they have become frustrated and felt the burden of the book was too much, I have shown them the way. As they sense I am becoming a bit wearied, it has been a blessing to feel them ease my load by initiating ideas that even wise Gandalf wouldn’t have thought of. This week my students have come up with some truly amazing ideas for Teaching Tolkien, as we navigated our way through Two Towers.
Reaching Two Towers was a landmark moment for my class, as they felt a sense of completion after finishing Fellowship. Prior to arriving at this checkpoint, I don’t think my students truly believed they could read all of Lord of the Rings. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the momentum of our reading is accelerating the pace at which we approach our objective. The action of the book since the Fellowship entered Moria has been non-stop and my students have established a manageable reading rate of two chapters a day, with each grade-level group being responsible for a chapter.
Since our school-day schedule is often unpredictable, my students have learned the value of having a plan B. What has amazed me this week is that instead of burdening me with the responsibility of coming up with alternative plans, my students are coming up with the big ideas themselves. Dwalin, Kili, Bombur, and Bilbo, the more senior members of the traveling party, have traversed much of the journey alone this week. Due to mandatory review sessions causing them to miss my class, the rest of my dwarves were unable to read their chapter each day. Stepping up to the plate, Bilbo rallied his remaining teammates to pick up the slack by reading the extra portions to keep us on track. Not only did they read the allotted daily amount, my students were able to get ahead of schedule. They are reading at a feverish pace and responding to all of the material with great enthusiasm.
While the loss of Boromir was expected, since Peter Jackson chose to include his death in Fellowship of the Ring, my students enjoyed having the advantage of being in the know, for once. They were saddened by the departure of yet another member of the Fellowship, but they were not in the depths of despair long as our reading was rewarded today by the return of Gandalf. They also adore Treebeard and have enjoyed wandering with him through Fangorn Forest, as they experiment with what the voice of an Ent should sound like. I shared with them how Treebeard was inspired by Tolkien’s dear friend, C.S. Lewis, which further endeared “that other author” to them, who they judged so harshly back in January when I attempted to introduce them to Narnia.
Kili is fascinated by the Riders of Rohan and seems to want to know more about Eomer. Kili lets Hollywood influence her choices in favorite characters, as I’ve noticed she tends to prefer the more rugged, handsome, and heroic characters such as her namesake, Kili, Aragorn, Legolas, and now Eomer. Being a very visual learner, Kili has to see a character before she can decide if she likes them.
Kili came up with her own big idea this week in her steno pad. Of her own accord, she asked me if she could write down “something”, which I could tell seemed rather urgent to her. Prior to establishing a permanent residence in Middle-Earth, Kili was a huge Hunger Games fan. She carried school supplies with characters from the movie and chattered nonstop about protagonists Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. Now all of her talking has turned to Tolkien and in her steno pad she came up with the idea of seeing how two Lord of the Rings heroes stacked up against Katniss and Peeta.
“Legolas vs Katniss-Legolas is so much better than Katniss because Katniss is really slow targeting arrows when Legolas has already killed like 70 Uruk-Hai. Katniss is afraid to fight but Legolas while he is shooting his bow and arrow is stabbing Uruk-Hai with the point of an arrow. Results: Legolas Wins!” “Aragorn vs Peeta- Aragorn is so much better than Peeta because first of all, Aragorn is the king and Peeta is just a bread waster. Even though Aragorn is kind of old, he still looks better than Peeta. Aragorn can fight like a man, but Peeta fights like he is having a spaz attack. Results: Aragorn Wins!”
I love Kili‘s creative idea, which I may develop into a future assignment, but even more, I love the fact that Kili took responsibility for her own learning. Not the only brainchild in the bunch, Bombur also came up with a great idea this week. Sticking to such a rigorous reading regimen has left my students concerned about fitting in viewing the film adaptations, too. Bombur suggested that we enjoy lunch and a movie everyday, by using outside of class time to catch up on the film and not have to sacrifice our precious reading time. I think it will also benefit my students to be able to compare and contrast the book to the film on a daily basis, while the text is still fresh in their minds. Nothing like a little Two Towers and tacos, which was on the cafeteria lunch menu today.
Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I feel that my students deserve a special reward for all of the hard work I am confident they will complete in the next four weeks. I have decided I will host a banquet for them at the end of our journey, in the spirit of the hobbits’ great celebrations. Though I cannot hold a candle to the real Gandalf’s fireworks, our celebration will include lots of food, fun, and speeches. There is a local eatery called Bilbo Baggins Restaurant and Green Dragon Pub, which serves Tolkien-themed dishes such as Gandalf’s Pizza Pie, Sam’s Garden Salad, and The Bilbo Burger. While I loved the idea of hosting our event there, it was cost prohibitive, nor could they accommodate the strict religious dietary requirements of many of my Muslim students’ families, which require that they eat only Halal meat. “Ms. Rodgers! I’ve got the perfect idea! Let’s hold a picnic at a local park,” suggested Bilbo. He quickly persuaded me that all of their families use the local parks all the time, space wouldn’t be an issue in the great outdoors, and they could all bring their own food to the event, ensuring that all of the meat had been prepared in the proper fashion according to their customs and keeping the costs to a minimum. We all embraced the idea and are awaiting approval on our picnic permit application, which is required to host an event in our local park jurisdiction. We look forward to completing our mission together, with our Teaching Tolkien readers, and sharing pictures and videos from our celebration with you, too. You have been there every step of the journey with us and we wouldn’t want you to miss a moment!