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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Nine: "The Quest Is Achieved"

Comments for Teachers

In Unit One we noted that The Lord of the Rings is sometimes called an "epic fairy tale." This label invites us to view Aragorn as the archetypal epic hero, the man of conspicuous areté, and Frodo as the archetypal fairy tale hero, the unlikely doer of great deeds. Critic Verlyn Flieger notes that to keep the novel from fracturing into parallel, disconnected narratives, Tolkien made the daring move of scrambling the two traditions, so that Frodo meets the typical fate of the epic hero — loss, defeat, an unhealing wound — while Aragorn wins the prizes normally reserved for a fairy tale hero, including a kingdom, a beautiful maiden, and the expectation of living happily ever after.

The Unit Nine discussions and activities should help students grasp the various theories of heroism dramatized in Book Six. These final chapters also present you with an opportunity to recapitulate the motifs and ideas that run through the entire epic.

The theme of Unit Four was power, corruption, and responsibility, and you may want to draw the class's attention to the moment in Book Six when Sam's inner strength is suddenly restored: "With a new sense of responsibility he brought his eyes back to the ground near at hand, studying the next move" (page 913).

Unit Five focused on the tension between free will and destiny, and Book Six elaborates on this idea through Sam's decision to spare Gollum (page 923), Saruman's rejection of Gandalf's generosity (page 961), Frodo's refusal to have Saruman slain (pages 995–96), and — most memorably and dramatically — Gollum's assumption of his destined role in the unmaking of the Ring, as predicted by Gandalf on page 58.

Unit Six celebrated Tolkien's love of nature, a theme that reemerges in Book Six when Aragorn discovers "the sapling of the line of Nimloth" (page 950) and also when Sam uses Galadriel's gift of soil from Lórien to make the Shire bloom anew (page 1000).

In the commentary for Unit Seven, we suggested that Tolkien's moral universe, while rooted in the dichotomy of good versus evil, is not dualistic or "Manichaean." Redemption is always possible in Middle-earth because "nothing is evil in the beginning" (page 261). Book Six offers several examples of Tolkien's sober optimism, two of which involve stars: Sam's epiphany on page 901, when he sees a white star shining over Mordor ("The beauty of it smote his heart . . . For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing"), and Saruman's sarcastic response to Frodo's claim that Wormtongue has done him no evil: "No evil? Oh no! Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars" (page 996).

Finally, Tolkien's concern with the phenomenon of despair, the theme of Unit Eight, is further developed in Book Six, notably through the healing of Éowyn (pages 937–44), the alienation of Frodo (page 1001), and the regeneration of Frodo's heroic companion (page 913): "Sam's plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue."

The Lord of the Rings is an example of what critic Northrop Frye calls "encyclopedic form," poems and novels that attempt to embody the entire life cycle and culture of a people. Such a work is commonly a fusion of genres. In Tolkien's epic fantasy, the synthesis of fairy tale idioms with heroic epic conventions yields a powerful but elusive mood, a "joy-in-sorrow atmosphere," as scholar Clyde Kilby terms it. Before students take leave of Middle-earth, you may wish to acknowledge the emotional core of Tolkien's novel, its lyrical embrace of loss and homecoming, unhealing hurt, and unembarrassed elation.

Examples abound in Book Six, including Frodo's lament following the achievement of the Quest (page 929), Gimli's grief over the imminent passing of Galadriel (page 953), and the Lady's farewell to Aragorn (page 960). Perhaps the loveliest such passage occurs near the end of Chapter IV, when the minstrel of Gondor celebrates the hobbits' triumph (page 933): "And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

Unit Nine Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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