The Educational Value of the Lord of the Rings
- Friday, November 14, 2003
With a heavy heart and a desire to save his world from ruin, Frodo sets off on this mission with three other hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, Gandalf, and two men: Boromir, a Beowulf-type warrior, and Aragorn, who is the secret heir to the throne of men They face many (about 900 pages worth of) strange and wonderful adventures including orcs, water monsters, trolls, and giant spiders, not to mention cold, hunger, and fatigue. By some miracle, some of them survive (read the book to find out who) and Frodo accomplishes his mission, though not in the way expected.
"Magic" is treated in the book in a very responsible manner. Tolkien himself did not like the term "magic", and it is rarely used in the book. He preferred the term "power" when dealing with an event that was supernatural in nature. In Tolkien's world, this power was not something you were taught: certain powers were inherent in your race. The elves possessed some "supernatural powers," but they could only be used to protect, to communicate and seek wisdom, and to beautify, and even then the powers were only used in very limited ways. There was generally no attempt to increase their powers and no attempt to teach it to others outside their race
Never are these powers placed in the hands of a child, nor is any character encouraged in its use. In fact, the weaker characters such as the hobbits, with whom children are most likely to identify, are repeatedly warned to not seek such knowledge, lest the temptation to use such power for evil be too great for them or lest it prove too strong for their minds and destroy them.
Gandalf also has limited "magical" powers used primarily to protect himself and his charges from the forces of evil. Even then, these powers are sparsely used Otherwise, many of the adventures in the book would have never occurred, because Gandalf would be constantly rescuing them! Instead, the characters are encouraged to solve most of their problems by courage, wisdom, wit, persistence, and faith in the importance of the task before them.
The power possessed by the good creatures of Middle-earth produces events that are more closely connected with what we think of as miracles. For instance, in one scene, Frodo is pursued by evil Black Riders who seek to wrest the Ring from him. Frodo flees on a horse to a river on the boundary of the land of the elves, where their power can protect him. As the Riders cross the river on the boundary of the elf stronghold, Gandalf and the elf-lord cause the waters of the river to rise up and engulf the pursuers in a scene strangely reminiscent of the Red- Sea incident in Exodus.
The ultimate test of a good book is its impact on the reader. Does the work motivate you to good or evil? Works such as the Harry Potter books sometimes encourage young people to experiment with magic and often portray the control of others as a positive power to be sought. The line between good and evil is often blurred and the reader is left with the idea that good and evil are very relative terms.
In The Lord of the Rings, the choice is clear: whose side are you on, anyway? The characters are tempted to do evil, but they know that it is evil that tempts them. The reader goes away with the notion that a hero is one who endures pain and suffering in order to help a friend, to save their home, or to conquer evil. In this present age of the world, our children need to understand this concept. Some of the images in the book and the film are frightening- in fact children under twelve may get nightmares from either. However, the evening news is even more frightening to older teens and adults. Evil exists and we need courage to deal with it.
Is The Lord of the Rings a Christian book? Tolkien, who was a Catholic, thought so. In a letter to poet W.H. Auden, Tolkien once wrote, "I don't feel under any obligation to make my story fit with formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant with Christian thought and belief" The book is filled with biblical imagery and concepts throughout However, the gospel is never given and no religious system (Catholic or otherwise) is ever espoused in its pages. God is never mentioned, but the hints at the power of a Higher Being in the universe are pervasive.
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