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Unit 14: Movies and the Classics
(from the preface to the Teacher's Edition of Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings.)
I have long been a Tolkien fan. I was introduced to the book when I was 15 years old and found it to be my most magical literary experience. Since then, I have read the book over 25 times. When I needed a mental vacation, I visited Middle-earth, for I knew that I would find comfort in its beauty. If I was under terrible stress, I visited Middle-earth, for I could be assured of a good cry in Shelob’s Lair and at the Grey Havens. Even after more than 25 trips to Middle-earth, I could still fall under its spell.
When the movie came out, I had not read the book in about three years. I was not particularly excited about the movie. I knew it could not touch the images I had in my heart. I was even afraid that Hollywood would spoil the magic. However, when the Fellowship came out on video, my kids bought it and I was curious. I watched the movie with them and was hooked. Sure, it was not as good as the book, but it was marvelous. Of course, I was a little perturbed by the liberties taken with the action and dialogue, but I understood the limitations of cinema. Yet the settings they created were nearly perfect. I found myself driven back to the novel once again. Between the book and the movie, I was becoming obsessed.
I was also teaching British Literature to secondary level students at the time. We were reading Caedmon’s Hymn, the oldest recorded English poem, which makes reference to Middle-earth. We were studying Beowulf and the story suddenly seemed more familiar. We were covering Spenser’s The Fairy Queen and I again I was struck by the similarities. Was this part of my obsession? Was I losing my mind or were there really this many parallels between The Lord of the Rings and the subject matter that was being presented in the literature textbook?
I began to read Tolkien’s Biography and his Letters, both produced by Humphrey Carpenter. I had always known that Tolkien was an Oxford professor, but more research into his life brought home to me the impact of his studies of Old and Middle English on the creation of his own world. Why are we presenting all these ancient forms of literature to kids as if they are trophies under glass? I wondered. If they could see how the old stories can inspire such wonderful new ones, perhaps students would be more interested.
I could not find any high school curriculum that set out to do this in an organized and complete fashion. So I began to do it myself. I became swept up in the project, channeling my love for Tolkien into a new study and appreciation of his literary sources. As I did research, I found that some colleges taught Tolkien. When they did, many took this approach: to study his sources. As I mentioned the idea to colleagues in both home school and traditional school settings, the response I got was overwhelmingly positive.
This one-author approach to a curriculum could not be done with anyone else but Tolkien. But through a study of his sources, we can introduce students to Beowulf, the Arthurian Romances, and the epic conventions. Through a study of the impact of his philology, we can introduce students to the basics of linguistics. Through the study of his poetry, we can introduce the students to the basics of poetic meter and composition. Through the study of his world, we can show a student how to create a marvelous setting. I think that Tolkien would be pleased to see his greatest work lead young people to the study of the things that he loved best.
In this curriculum, the subject matter is often presented from a writer’s point of view. Supplemental chapter notes give fascinating insights into where Tolkien gleaned ideas for the chapters and the comments he made about his own work. I hope that this will demystify the writing process and make students feel more willing to create for themselves. Literary terms are defined throughout the work and are introduced in subtle ways in the teaching of the text
I love many types of literature. Dickens and Austen are other literary heroes of mine. Yet, it was Tolkien that captured my heart and cemented my desire to study English in college and, someday, to write. Through him, I saw the power that a pen could truly wield. My hope is that, through this curriculum, he will inspire a whole new generation as well.
During the course of developing and selling this curriculum, it has been my privilege to become, to some degree, acquainted with some of the people involved in the making of the movies. I don't claim to know any of them well. This was not my intention as I became involved with this project. However, I feel that some of the students involved with this curriculum may be interested in the little I have been able to glean, and so I gladly share my experiences with them.
Let me first say that I truly appreciate the fine work that all those involved did in the making of this series of films. I was seriously concerned that the filmmakers would ruin Middle earth for a whole generation. But they did a great job. Granted, my version would have been different. In my version, nothing would have been deleted, Faramir would have been presented in a much fairer light, and Frodo would DEFINITELY have never sent Sam away at the entrance to Shelob's Lair! I mean Frodo would have NEVER done that! It was madness to tell him to "go home." And what was Sam supposed to do anyway? Catch a bus from the edge of Mordor to the Shire???????
Sorry. I digress. I tend to get carried away at times. I found myself shouting at the screen of my television and offering to send a copy of the book to Peter Jackson at several points.....
Anyway, my version would have been better (naturally), but it would have lasted 20 hours, cost several billion more dollars and been viewed by maybe a 100 people. I suppose Mr. Jackson did a fair job under the restrictions he was given. :) The actors were, for the most part, well-chosen and did a superb job as well.
People will be debating the relative merits of the actors for years to come. I know young people will. Everyone has their favorite actor, the one they find the most talented, the one with whom they can relate, the one (let's be honest) that they find the cutest. This is normal, when kept in perspective. But fandom can have a dangerous side as well. We need to keep in mind that these actors all have lives of their own. Some things they do are good and noble--such as raising money for good causes. Many other activities they may be engaged in may be immoral, harmful, or dangerous. These people are not the noble characters they portray-- they are simply people, mortals faced with stresses and temptations that many of us (thankfully) will never have to endure. It is generally not a good idea to choose any of them as a role model. Christ should have that place. But we can admire them for their talents. And we can pray for them to find the peace of God in the midst of the unrealistic trappings of their existence. Who knows what could be accomplished if many of us pray.
Below are some of the experiences I have had with some of the people involved.
Sean Astin-- I met Sean Astin at a Lord of the Rings convention in Florida in August of 2005. He has to be one of the nicest actors around. He was friendly, engaging, and down to earth and conveyed a deep appreciation for the fans of the movies. I suppose I relate most to him as a person. He is a family man-- his third child was born shortly before I met him. His family was with him on the set for much of the filming-- in fact his daughter appears with him in the final scene as Sam's daughter. He told us that he majored in English and history in college and seems truly interested in literature-- in fact he sponsors some literacy programs.
I gave him a copy of the curriculum (the student edition) and thanked him for his part in helping to inspire it. He seemed really interested in the study and told me he thought it was a great idea to encourage students interest in literature in this manner. I told him that I felt that this was my way of being a part of the rich legacy of Middle earth, just as acting was his. Within a week wrote me a thank you note on his own personal stationary! (sorry, no return address if you were wanting me to divulge it. :) Here is what he wrote: "Amelia , I really admire the work you did in creating the 'Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings.' I may never get the chance to complete the curriculum personally, but I'd like to. Keep up the great work! Sean"
I thought this was a truly classy thing for him to do and deeply appreciate his encouragement. As Faramir once said to Sam, "The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards."
Elijah Wood- I also met Elijah Wood at this same convention. He is a lithe, vivacious young man who conveys a tremendous sense of energy. He has a cute sense of humor. When the crowd was avidly snapping pictures, he pulled out his own camera and began snapping pictures of his fans! He did not really have a speech prepared for his time, so he whipped out his cell phone and called up Billy Boyd (then filming in England) and Dominic Monaghan (then filming Lost in Hawaii) and chatted with them on speakerphone, reuniting three of the hobbits by satellite. I am sure that Tolkien never saw that one coming!
He is also a big music fan with what he calls "eclectic tastes." He revealed that he has over 9000 songs on his I-pod (this is truly a 21st century guy). In fact, he is currently starting a music label of his own. You know what I would like to hear? A CD of Billy Boyd performing Celtic music a capella. Didn't he do a great job in the throne room of King Denethor?
I really rather felt sorry for Elijah. Many of the people present were paying to have photos taken with him. (Not me. Why ruin a perfectly good picture of Elijah?) The line was long, filled primarily with (literally) swooning young girls. I know he got several marriage proposals that day, though I am certain he did not accept any of them. Sounds like a hard job, but I suppose someone has to do it.
I was rather nervous about meeting Elijah in the signature line. I mean, Frodo is such a good friend of mine. Okay, he is (somewhat) imaginary, but you just don't come across noble selfless guys like him every day and I had gotten to know him really well while I was working on this curriculum. Here I was faced with the young man who had portrayed him to the world. So I shook Elijah's hand nervously and said, "I appreciate the work you did in the film. Thank you for not ruining Frodo for me." Poor Eljiah. He looked a little startled. I think he is still, like Bilbo's relatives, trying to work out whether or not that comes to a compliment....
John-Rhys Davies- John Rhys Davies gave the best speech at the convention. He is a big barrel of a man who reminded me more of an opera singer than a dwarf. He is also a natural orator and gave a very entertaining and thought-provoking presentation. One of the comments he made concerned Orlando Bloom. He said that it was a good thing that Orlando was an actor because he would never last two weeks at a real job! I wonder if the Elf/Dwarf friction has ever completely healed....
Later, I spoke to him at the signing. We talked a little about the aspects of war in The Lord of the Rings. He made some interesting comments about the concept of the "just war" during his presentation. Since I give speeches often on the topic of "The Just War: Attitudes Toward War in The Lord of the Rings," I felt we had a lot to talk about. We had a brief interesting conversation (I was standing in a line and time was limited) but he seemed genuinely interested in this Lord of the Rings curriculum project and suggested that I read Thomas Aquinas's comments on the topic of warfare. Not the sort of conversation I expected with an actor...
Liv Tyler -I have never met Liv Tyler, but I have spoken to one of her relatives. While I was working on the curriculum, I wrote an article about The Lord of the Rings movie and it was published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Soon after it was published, I got a phone call. A woman with a cultivated voice said that she had enjoyed the article and the lovely picture of Arwen and wanted to tell me that she was Arwen's grandmother.
Of course, my first thought was "Galadriel! Galadriel is calling me!" But then I remembered that Galadriel had set sail. Turns out it was Dorothea Johnson, Liv Tyler's maternal grandmother, who reared her for a good portion of her life. Mrs. Johnson is an interesting person herself. She herself is a former model and founded the Washington School of Protocol, which trains military officials, ambassadors, businessmen, actors, and others in manners and protocol.
Mrs. Johnson talked to me for about 30 minutes. She said that Liv had competed for the role against about 50 other actresses. She said that many of them were jealous when Liv Tyler got the role and thought it was because she was the daughter of Steven Tyler, who is part of Aerosmith. (I am not a rock fan and have never heard an Aerosmith song, so I was pretty clueless.) However, according to Mrs. Johnson, Peter Jackson said that he gave Liv the role of Arwen because of her "air of quiet elegance." Liv certainly conveys that in her soft-spoken way and I think she made a fine Arwen. Apparently, her grandmother's training in that area paid off. I really appreciated Mrs. Johnson calling me. I would love to meet both her and Liv someday.
John Howe- John Howe was one of the conceptual artists for the films. He is also the illustrator for several Tolkien calendars and works concerning Tolkien. His artwork appears on the covers of Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings and on six interior pages (separating each new book section).
I particularly enjoy his landscape work. He has a way of making grass and trees come alive (even the ordinary ones that DON'T walk and talk). Also, his concept of Bag End is the best ever and was the basis of the one in the film. Wonder if he would design me a house like that?
I spoke with him by email several times in the course of this project and he was nice enough to mention me in one of his newsletters. He is a really nice guy and a very good writer himself. I have really enjoyed the newsletters he sends out and some of his books that I have read. He was very helpful in the course of this project and gave me valuable publishing and printing advice.
The One Ring.Net -This site keeps up with the most up to date information about film, the new musical, and the actors. There is a wide variety of material here--the Green Books section sometimes has interesting interview and academic material. However, use caution when visiting this site, as with all websites. It is generally clean, but it changes often and there are many perspectives present and we cannot necessarily vouch for all of them.
Photos on this page are copyrighted by New Line Cinema and are used by permission. All rights reserved.
The links above are given for aid in studying Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings. Others are welcome to use the information, though most of the material on this site is copyrighted. You are welcome to link to these pages. However, please get our permission before copying any of this to another site. For more information on the curriculum,Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, please click here to explore more of the information on this site.