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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Five: "The Tides of Fate Are Flowing"

Discussion Topics

"We Must Send the Ring to the Fire." The Council of Elrond considers three ways to counter the threat posed by the Ring: giving the artifact to Tom Bombadil, casting it into the Sea, wielding it against the Enemy. Can students recall who proposed each of these options? On what grounds does the Council reject all three? Why does Elrond believe that only a fourth course — "to walk into peril" — can resolve the crisis?

Galadriel's Test and Boromir's Treachery. Two particularly dramatic scenes in Book Two occur when first Galadriel and then Boromir find themselves in thrall to the One Ring. "You will give me the Ring freely!" says Galadriel. "In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen . . . All shall love me and despair" (page 356). Boromir is no less emphatic: "The Ring would give me power of command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner" (page 389). As students think back on both ordeals, do they find themselves empathizing more with Galadriel's triumph or Boromir's failure? Why is Frodo willing to relinquish the Ring to an elf but not to a human?

Frodo's Free Will. As Book Two progresses, Frodo makes several momentous decisions. At the Council of Elrond he announces, "I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way" (page 264). After becoming invisible to escape Boromir at Amon Hen, our hero realizes he is "free to choose" and has "one remaining instant" in which to use that freedom, whereupon he manages to pull the Ring off his finger (page 392). With his next breath Frodo decides that he must "go alone" into the Land of Mordor. What similarities and differences do students perceive among these three choices? Which resolution was probably the hardest for Frodo to make? The hardest to act upon?

Amity, Enmity, and the Quest. Beyond its affirmation of free will, Book Two celebrates the ideal of fellowship. Have the class discuss how each member of the Company — the hobbits, men, dwarf, elf, and wizard — must subordinate his personal desires to the common good. What agendas do Boromir and Aragorn defer for the sake of the Quest? When Gimli and Legolas transcended the traditional enmity between dwarves and elves, did students find this development convincing?

Tolkien's Artistic Fellowships. In his Tolkien biography Humphrey Carpenter talks about the inspiration the author drew from two small, casual groups whose members shared a love of literature. While attending King Edward's School, Tolkien and three other young men formed the TCBS (the Tea Club and Barrovian Society), and his years as an Oxford don were immeasurably enriched by the Inklings. After telling the class about the TCBS and distributing the Inklings handout, invite students to consider whether the fellowship theme in The Lord of the Rings owes something to these organizations. Why do artists value community so highly? Does anyone in the class routinely share his or her creative writing with friends? What are the differences between having a small audience and having no audience?

Choices versus Pseudo-choices. Sociologists have noted that modern consumer culture abounds in pseudo-choices masquerading as authentic choices. Franchise restaurants function within an extremely narrow definition of food. Different brands of clothing issue from identical sweatshops. What other pseudo-choices can students identify in our society? Does exercising a pseudo-choice ever make a person feel truly empowered? Are pseudo-choices an innocuous phenomenon, or do they trivialize the whole idea of free will?

The Blood of Kings. Some students may notice that, when the Lord of Rivendell discusses Aragorn's royal lineage during the Council of Elrond, the notion of innate superiority emerges: "But in the wearing of the swift years . . . the line of Meneldil son of Anáron failed, and the blood of the Númenorians became mingled with that of lesser men" (page 238). Does the class understand that Tolkien is presenting Aragorn's exalted ancestry in mythological rather than biological terms? In the students' view, is it possible to celebrate one's heritage without making an implicit claim of preeminence?

Unit Five Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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