182: All the is Gold does not Glitter: J. R. R. Tolkien

This is one of my favorite units.

My charge is to study 20th century world history.  Instead of studying everything, I study one thing that can then be applied to many things.  Our study of 20th century England is really a look at all of Western Civilization and how one goes about looking at an entire culture in a deep, meaningful way.

It begins with Tolkien. 

We watch “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” (the first of the trilogy).  I annoy my students by having the subtitles on (how else do you understand whispering British accents, plus reinforce reading fluency?), stopping it every other frame (note how Jackson blocks the shot!) and informing them of this or that bit that will be important later in the unit.  Oh, and we track the story as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (or mono-myth).

Then we backtrack. 

You can’t know LOTR without knowing the symoblic nature of numbers–three, for example.  The Trinity, which demands an understanding of Christianity, that leads to the religions and schisms and history of England.  And that’s just one number (Question: How many arrows does it take to bring down Borimir after her proves himself?  Three.  Coincidence?  I think not!). 

So, to understand the influences of Tolkien you have to understand religion, myth, government, military tactics and history, food (elevensies!), climate, geology, geography….  We study language, Old English, poetry….  You get the idea. 

Oh, and a big old unit on World War I, which influenced Tolkien greatly.  There’s a whole bunch of biographical criticism to be gleaned!

After dissecting all of the fun out of it, we move to Harry Potter and reconstruct the book from what we’ve learned.  It’s all in there, plus a half-century more of history.  A great book to back up against Tolkien.  There’s lots of what my old School of Ed. professor used to call “pole digging” to be done.  By the end, we’ve gotten the culture.

This poem is fun to start with.  It’s pretty straightforward, but has symbolism they can grasp.  Many of my students have heard a line or two, as they appear on bumperstickers and whatnot.

Watch out for the last line.  The more literal students will be drawn to it like a moth to light.  Instead of applying it to larger hidden gems (YOUR the king!), they’ll start talking about monarchy and something they saw on late night cable about the Queen.

All that is Gold does not Glitter
J. R. R. Tolkien

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.


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