Cinema Conversations

Mesmerized Movie Buffs

Mesmerized Movie Buffs

For the last two weeks, I have enjoyed daily “lunch bunches” (which is the term used at my school for when students dine with teachers instead of in the cafeteria) with my band of dwarves, while we have been watching Two Towers together.  Although I’m up for a Peter Jackson film anytime, it has been really enjoyable to share the viewing experience with my students.  Some are seasoned fans of the trilogy of films and others are relishing the visual realization of the events they only imagined in their minds.  What entertains me the most about this experience is the conversations I get to observe taking place, as they invest even more time into Tolkien.

Though I do have parent permission to show them these PG-13 films and many of them are accustomed to seeing much more graphic movies, their juvenile reactions to the content remind me that they are still children.  Jackson’s battle sequences may not be brutal, but they still garner intense emotions and cause some to turn their eyes away momentarily from the stabbing of an Uruk-Hai or two.  They cheer every time a member of the Fellowship kicks butt and collectively feel that Legolas is a “skilled assassin”.  Battle scenes aren’t the only thing they cover their eyes for.  Even though there’s not much romance in Lord of the Rings, the rather chaste kissing scenes between Arwen and Aragorn embarrassed many and caused a few eewws to be uttered in disgust.  At their age, boys and girls are still not supposed to like each other!

Oin, quite the film fan, kept shouting “spoiler alert” every time someone talked about a scene they haven’t seen yet and exclaimed “oh, that is so green-screen” at the CGI shots of Isengard’s forces.  I don’t think my students truly comprehended how outnumbered the Rohirrim were at Helm’s Deep until they saw how that chapter was depicted in the film.  An argument also broke out over whether Arwen’s immortality is better compared to that of a vampire or a ghost.  Earlier in our journey, I had asked my students to respond to the tale of Beren and Luthien, another star-crossed couple, to decide whether an immortal should exchange eternal life for love.  I don’t think they truly grasped the weight of such a decision until they viewed the poignant scenes between actors Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen.

Peter Jackson, a master storyteller, eloquently pays homage to Tolkien, a master of foreshadowing, in the way he chooses to reveal characters to the audience.  Knowing this, I anticipate how my students will react to particular scenes.  Reading about the return of Gandalf is exciting enough, but my students fell for it hook, line, and sinker when Jackson tricks the audience into believing that Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are really encountering Saruman, the other white wizard.  Deceived by the trickery of using Christopher Lee’s voice as it morphed into Ian McKellen’s, my students were utterly relieved to hear that Gandalf was back!  They were fooled yet again at the first appearance of Treebeard, thinking Merry and Pippin were about to be killed by such a benign character.  Bifur feels that Treebeard is like a grandpa because he’s old, prattles on and on about the good old days, and tells rambling stories that don’t seem to go anywhere and make you want to go to sleep.  I suspect Merry and Pippin might have felt the same way.

Bifur was not only full of opinions today, but full of food.  His mother had packed so much Bulgogi, a Korean BBQ favorite, for his lunch that he offered to share it with the other children.  Ori said, “Bifur, you’re such a good little hobbit” at his random act of kindness.  Almost everyone lost their appetite though as they were repulsed by Gollum ripping raw rabbit flesh with his few remaining teeth.  They giggled loudly over Merry and Pippin’s beverage choices as they imbibed Ent-draught and wondered if there was really a drink that could make you grow a few inches.  Another scene that made an impact was the releasing of Saruman’s spell over King Theoden.  Amazed at the physical transformation actor Bernard Hill made from possessed to repossessed, some of my Christian students said that it reminded them of an exorcism, which started a conversation about their various religions.  My Muslim students concluded that they have the same type of religious rite, but call it a ruqya.

Kili, who loves these films so much that her curiosity leads her to “sneak” a few peeks on YouTube, has appointed herself our resident Tolkien expert. She not only views ahead, but reads ahead and researches further into her favorite characters.  Previously only liking the male characters, she has now found a strong heroine she can identify with, Eowyn.  Impressed by Eowyn’s swordplay with Aragorn, she admits “it’s sort of pathetic how Eowyn follows Aragorn around with puppy-dog eyes when he clearly is in love with Arwen!”  Kili also went on to explain who the Dunedain were to some of the other students.  Though we affectionately refer to her as Miss Know-it-all, even Kili doesn’t know everything.  The whole class laughed when she mistakenly referred to the Palantir as a “planeteer”.  Having an intact sense of humor, even she laughed at herself over that one.  I applaud her efforts to move beyond the text though and may even suggest she consider The Silmarillion for a summer reading selection.

My students are also noticing Jackson’s alterations to the sequences of some of the events in Two Towers, which he chose to save for the final film.  As my students have already encountered these events in the book, I am anxious for them to view Return of the King.  Our reading this past week also led to some great discussions.  They enjoyed hearing of Saruman and Wormtongue getting their comeuppance and Ori asked why Gandalf would choose not to keep Saruman’s staff for himself rather than breaking it.  Knowing that Gandalf does not seek power to serve himself, most of the children agreed that taking away his staff was a fitting punishment for Saruman.  Oin connected his action to the wizarding world of Harry Potter by sharing “a wizard is nothing without his wand, so a wizard in Middle-Earth is nothing without his staff.”  “Poor Saruman thought he was going to win,” Ori mocked as he sang a chorus of nah nah nana boo boo.  Noticing Pippin’s insatiable curiosity over the Palantir, Oin said, “Pippin’s pupils must be magnetic” to describe his need to gaze into the formidable object.  He also wondered if the Palantir would have the same powers if it were thrown underwater.  Not having an answer for him, I told him perhaps one of our Teaching Tolkien readers could supply us with one.  Another stumper they had for me today was asking the exact geographic proportions of Middle-Earth.  Relating it to his native country, South Korea, Bifur asked “is Middle-Earth Korea-Size?”  Only speculating, I told him in my opinion, I imagined it as Australia-size.

As our dialogue continues in the classroom, we hope that the dialogue will continue on Teaching Tolkien.  With only three weeks remaining in the school year, our plan is to finish Two Towers this week and race to the finish to complete Return of the King in the final two weeks.  The journey continues…

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7 Comments on “Cinema Conversations”

  1. John Cowan
    May 28, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    Elvish immortality is not like either vampire immortality or ghost immortality. The nearest thing to vampires in Middle-Earth are the Black Riders, and they are just human spirits trapped in the world by the power of their rings (and the One Ring), unable to pass over to the afterlife. Ghosts, if there were any, would be in the same situation. But Elves live as long as the universe does (even if they are killed, they reincarnate in their old bodies eventually, as Glorfindel has), and they don’t know what will happen to them after that. Men, on the other hand, have mortal bodies but immortal souls, so in the end they may well outlive the Elves. That’s why death, the Doom of Men, was originally called the Gift to Men.

    I don’t think a wizard is nothing without his staff. Gandalf has just as much power without the staff as with (something the Rohirrim don’t understand), and Saruman’s staff breaks because he has lost his powers, as opposed to losing his powers because his staff is broken.

    There’s no reason at all why a palantír should not work under water. It’s pretty much imperishable crystal: it won’t break or chip or corrode, and it has no moving parts. Two of them were lost around two thousand years before the War of the Ring when the ship carrying them went down in a storm, but they’re just irretrievable because they are at the bottom of the ocean; that doesn’t make them non-functional. Here’s the full story of the “seven stones”:

    In the South-kingdom:

    1) The palantír of Osgiliath (the old capital of Gondor before it was destroyed): Fell into the River Ánduin and presumably rolled down to the Sea.

    2) The palantír of Minas Ithil / Minas Morgul: Taken by Sauron when Minas Ithil was captured about a thousand years ago. Probably lost in the ruin of the Dark Tower.

    3) The palantír of Minas Anor / Minas Tirith: Survived, but only shows Denethor’s hands withering in the fire, unless the user has a huge amount of psychic strength to turn it to another purpose.

    4) The palantír of Orthanc: Discarded by Wormtongue, and now in the keeping of the King.

    In the North-kingdom:

    5) The palantír of Annúminas (the old capital of Arnor, now known as Deadman’s Dike): Lost at sea by Arvedui, the last king of Arnor (see above).

    6) The palantír of Amon Súl (Weathertop): Saved when the tower on Weathertop (where the Fellowship was attacked by Black Riders) was destroyed, but then also lost at sea.

    7) The palantír of the Tower of Emyn Beraid: Survived at the top of its tower, but was only designed to look West over Sea to Elvenhome and beyond.

    Middle-Earth, or rather the parts we know about, are Europe-size, only without the English Channel or the Mediterranean. The Shire is about the latitude of England, whereas Minas Tirith is more like Rome or even northern Egypt.

    I’m a grandfather myself, though my grandson is only 4. Hopefully this grandfather’s tale doesn’t make your students go to sleep!

    • hmrodgers
      May 28, 2013 at 11:04 am #

      No, they’ll love it! Thanks for the information!

  2. erzsebet91
    May 29, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Speaking about Middle-Earth dimensions, Tolkien plainly said that ” Middle-Earth ” was simply the modern words for Middle english ” middel-erde “, that is, England, because at first he intended his Middle-Earth to be just the British archipelago; then, he mantained the name, because it was still ” a land between the seas “, and was still located into the ” old world “, that is Europe, even if he didn’t try to imagine Europe as geologists supposed it could have been in the past; for him, his story was one that just ” could have happened ” in our world, in an indefinite past.
    And about Elven immortality, their life is not just as long as the universe, but as the Earth: that is, the kingdom of Arda. Even if Tolkien was a novelist and a Christian, in fact, he was not of course unaware of the scientific side of our world, and therefore his fictional one: the Elves knew that the Universe could indeed go on with its own life, beyond theirs or their world’s, but they were primarily concerned with the ” tale of Arda ” of course. There is an interesting bit of text in the History of Middle Earth that talks just about Mortality and Immortality, even if it is maybe a little too early for your little dwarves to read, and very Christian, I would say, in its theories. However, it is fascinating to observe how poignant a kid’s thought can be in such difficult matters, isn’t it? But surely the Lord of The Rings is not the most apt work to discuss about Elven immortality, because they are already a vanishing people.
    The Silmarillion could be a perfect reading for one used to dig a lot into the characters and their stories, but it requires a bit of labour indeed! Your Kili will find a real challenge in it, even if the most rewarding, especially if one day she will plunge into the History of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s work that I’m most fond of.
    Hope that my comment isn’t too long-winded, and too incomprehensible!
    Elisa

    • hmrodgers
      May 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      Perfect comment, Elisa! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my students’ neverending questions.

    • John Cowan
      June 1, 2013 at 12:50 am #

      What on earth do you mean by “middel-erde, that is, England”? Middle-earth as an ordinary English word is well defined by the OED:

      The world, the earth, regarded as a middle region between heaven and hell […], or as occupying the centre of the universe. Sometimes also: the inhabitants or things of the world, especially as opposed to those of heaven; worldly things as opposed to divine or spiritual things. In later use chiefly archaic or literary.

      The oldest quotation is from Brut’s Layamon, written around 1300, and is (spelling modernized) “He thought to win all the middle-earth’s land.” In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir Hugh Evans says “I smell a man of middle earth” (as opposed to an elf or fairy).

  3. erzsebet91
    June 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Sorry got confused with the whole ” lost tales ” thing. That’s what Tolkien himself said about his Middle Earth:” ‘Middle-earth’, by the way, is not a name of a never-never land without relation to the world we live in (like the Mercury of Eddison). It is just a use of Middle English middel-erde (or erthe), altered from Old English Middangeard: the name for the inhabited lands of Men ‘between the seas’. And though I have not attempted to relate the shape of the mountains and land-masses to what geologists may say or surmise about the nearer past, imaginatively this ‘history’ is supposed to take place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet.” ( from a 1955 letter to Houghton Mifflin ). “I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. The name is the modern form (appearing in the 13th century and still in use) of midden-erd > middel-erd, an ancient name for the oikoumen, the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to imaginary worlds (as Fairyland) or unseen worlds (as Heaven or Hell). The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time. […]
    Mine is not an ‘imaginary’ world, but an imaginary historical moment on ‘Middle-earth’ – which is our habitation.” ( from letter 183 )

  4. erzsebet91
    June 2, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    Also, another bit of text from a letter that I forgot to put in my last comment: here’s Tolkien’s statement on the whole Middle-Earth size problem: “Not Nordic, please! A word I personally dislike; it is associated, though of French origin, with racialist theories. Geographically Northern is usually better. But examination will show that even this is inapplicable (geographically or spiritually) to ’Middle-earth’. This is an old word, not invented by me, as reference to a dictionary such as the Shorter Oxford will show. It meant the habitable lands of our world, set amid the surrounding Ocean. The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ’Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. But this is not a purely ’Nordic’ area in any sense. If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be at about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy. ” letter 293

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