Exploring Middle-earth

My real curriculum “find” this year was a high school lesson plan entitled Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Houghton Mifflin, the official U.S. publisher of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works for over sixty-five years, has created a complete collection of curriculum resources so educators and students can explore the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Resources are grouped into nine thematic units focused on Tolkien’s two most famous works: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Each unit is designed to last one week, but additional materials are available for those who may wish to explore certain themes more thoroughly. With a bit of creativity, these resources can be adapted to fit in to an existing literature course or they can be used as a stand-alone full-credit course.

The Lord of the Rings is a great work of imaginative literature. It is also, in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien:

. . . a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion,” to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.

According to the Houghton Mifflin course description: As the Middle-earth course progresses, your student should be able to comprehend The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at the level of plot, character, setting, and idea; appreciate the astonishingly complex world in which Tolkien’s novels unfold; think critically and write clearly about Tolkien’s themes, with special emphasis on their contemporary relevance; understand how Tolkien’s fiction is informed by many literary and linguistic traditions, as well as by philosophical, psychological, sociological, and political issues.

Each of the nine units includes: unit-specific goals; teacher comments; a preliminary quiz; key terms; handouts; discussion topics; suggested activities; and a bibliography with web links.

One of the most appealing aspects of this course is that it is available as a free download from the Houghton Mifflin website. Since the lesson plan is, as much as it can be, secular, I have customized my course with six essays, written by well known Catholic authors. These essays focus on the inherently Catholic aspects of Tolkien’s writings. Authors include Joseph Pearce, Charles Coulombe, Jason Boffetti, and Stan Williams.

Another creative addition I have made to the Tolkien curriculum is the optional further study of the Elvish language with a Sindarin course. Since I have a high school daughter whom I believe to be part elf, the Tolkien’s Middle-earth course is a winner for everyone involved.

Tolkien’s Middle-earth is available from the Houghton Mifflin website.

Evann Duplantier, homeschooling mother of six, is thankevann.com webmaster.

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