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Tolkien's Middle-earth:
Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Two: Runes, Riddles, and a Ring of Power

Suggested Activities

Writing in Runes. After receiving the handout called Anglo-Saxon Runes, the class should have no trouble using this ancient alphabet. As an initial exercise, have each student write his or her name in runes. The more advanced students might use runes for a daily journal entry.

Speaking in Riddles. By browsing the Internet or scouring the library, students can collect a variety of classic riddles. Beyond the primordial Riddle of the Sphinx, this type of puzzle exists in all cultures and throughout all ages. Who can find the strangest riddle? The most profound? The most delightful? The most outrageous? A riddle with several answers? Perhaps the class will want to split into two teams and stage a riddle contest reminiscent of the famous Gollum-Bilbo match.

Inventing a Language. Divide the class into groups. Each team first makes up a name for a nonexistent language — Blorgolese, Arcanian, Friktic, whatever — then fleshes it out with ten verbs, ten nouns, ten adjectives, and five prepositions. Prefixes and suffixes are allowed. Verbs will prove the biggest challenge. Do the speakers of this secret tongue look to the future, or do they live only for the moment? Are the tenses formed through inflections or through auxiliaries? If time permits, the groups can share their languages by creating grammar books or dictionaries.

The Personal Epithet. In this activity students investigate the meanings of their own names to derive personal — and often delightfully absurd — epithets. Baby-name books are a useful resource here. If a person is called Fred Edwards, his personal epithet would be "Peaceful-Ruling Son of the Rich Guardian." If she is Linda Cooper, her epithet would be "Beautiful Barrel Maker." Some class members may have difficulty tracing their last names. In such cases, invite the student to invent whatever epithet he or she would like to bear.

The Amateur Philologist. After studying the handout called "The Tree of Language," the class can use unabridged dictionaries, Internet resources, the Oxford English Dictionary, and The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots to trace the heritage of common English words. For example, the proto-Indo-European word weid, meaning to see, entered Anglo-Saxon as wis, hence our English word "wisdom." Meanwhile, weid became videre in Latin, hence our words "video" and "vision." Finally, in its suffixed form woid-o, weid became the familiar Sanskrit word veda.

Finding Your Inner Troll. So basic and compelling are the great fairy tale motifs — the impossible task, the rash promise, the forbidden action — that many students will enjoy incorporating them into their own fiction. The idea is not to produce a Faerie story for its own sake, but to use the genre in exploring a personal theme or making a satirical point. The setting can be archaic or contemporary, the characters convincing or comical. If students have trouble thinking up plots, remind them that the genre thrives on wish-fulfillment fantasies. What if a frustrated high school athlete, disgruntled babysitter, bored software engineer, envious business executive, or failed Nascar driver turned to Faerie in seeking her heartís desire?

Unit Two Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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