Fellowship of the Rings: Novels for the High School Classroom
I watched the movie first. Then I watched the second movie. Then I took students on a field trip to see the movie. Then I actually read the books: all three Lord of the Rings in 10 days. It's a good thing there's not a fourth. My wife would have divorced me and I'd be standing in line for fantasy/geek movies dressed up as characters.
Now, I re-read Fellowship of the Rings once per year, when I teach it to my senior English class.
It's Bilbo Baggins' 111 birthday party, and his friend Gandolf the Wizard has arrived with fireworks. It's also Bilbo's farewell party, although only he knows it. He leaves everything to his favorite nephew, Frodo Baggins. Among his possessions is a magic ring Bilbo pilfered from gollum, this swamp-creature thing. What Bilbo doesn't know is the ring is sought by Sauron, the evil wizard who lives in Mordor.
Gandolf knows what the ring signifies and instructs Frodo to take the ring to safety and then on to destruction. Don't worry. The book's not as nerdy as my summary makes it sound.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is the benchmark for fantasy novels. Fellowship of the RIngs is the first novel of the trilogy. Although the novel's setting is thousands of years ago in a place called Middle Earth with elves, wizards, hobbits, and dwarves, there are many issues worthy of discussion:
- Friendship: the friendship between Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam constitute a major theme in the novel.
- Cultural Differences: The fellowship consists of hobbits, an elf, a wizard, a dwarf, and a human. In case you're not familiar with Middle Earth History, these groups have a history of fighting (think Montagues and Capulets).
- Right vs. Wrong: The central theme of the novel focuses on the battle of good and evil. In Fellowship of the Rings, evil forces are gathering and must be checked before they become too powerful.
- Magic: The book contains many references to magic: some good, some bad.
- The Role of Fate: fate plays an important part in the futire of Frodo Baggins. He continually wonders how he was chosen to complete such a dangerous task.
Just because it's a book about elves and wizards doesn't mean it's void of literary analysis. You may wish to teach the following literary devices:
- Elements of Fantasy: It is the benchmark for all fantasy novels.
- Foreshadowing: Tolkien gives just enough hints to keep you reading...for 12 consecutive hours.
- Conflict: Good vs. Evil permeates everything in the novel.
- Plot: Many authors could get lost in a work of this magnitude. Not Tolkien.
- Suspense: In addition to foreshadowing, Tolkien uses pacing and dangerous action to create suspense.
- Characterization: Tolkien creates some of literature's most memorable characters.
- Setting: Tolkien's setting takes on a life of its own.
Readability and Appropriateness
Fellowship is the perfect novel for upper classmen (Freshmen or Sophomores aren't mature enough). It's entertaining and it's literary. In addition, there are three really good Lord of the Rings movies. The only problem I would foresee is the use of magic. Some people freak out over such things.