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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

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


Anglo-Saxon Runes

This is an excerpt from Ruth Noel’s The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth. In the author's words, "The runes . . . are those shown on the map in The Hobbit. They are one of several types actually used by writers of Old English and other Germanic languages. They are listed in their original Old English order, the first six letters of which give runes their alternate name, futhork."

The Tree of Language

This diagram of language groups comes from The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, edited by Calvert Watkins.

Beowulf and Grendel

In this scene from Beowulf, the hero encounters Grendel for the first time — and the monster meets his match. It is an exciting episode. Grendel rips open the door of the hall, then kills and eats a warrior before Beowulf grapples with him. The handout includes a literal translation of the first two lines paired with the original Anglo-Saxon, after which the entire scene is presented in modern English prose. Students might be interested to know that "Beowulf" means "Bee Wolf" — that is, a bear (bears being a kind of wolf that steals honey from bees). Beowulf was perhaps imagined as a "berserker" ("bear shirt"), a warrior who in the frenzy of battle could either turn into a bear (like Beorn) or display the animal's power. Some scholars believe that the character of Beowulf traces to the folktale type known as "the bear's son."

Dwarf Catalogue from the Elder Edda

This passage from the Old Norse poem "Voluspo" was Tolkien's source for the dwarf names in The Hobbit, as well as the name "Gandalf," which translates as "Wand Elf" or "Staff Elf" — not a dwarf, obviously, but perhaps a wizard. Tom Shippey speculates that "Voluspo" actually provided Tolkien with his initial inspiration for The Hobbit. The professor asked himself, "What sort of story would involve a wizard getting mixed up with dwarves?"

Unit Two Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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