Lord of the Ring-givers

Tolkien's Catholic and English mythology

HobbitonIn a hole in the internet, there lived a Lord of the Rings course. Not a nasty, dirty hole full of Freudian psychoanalysis, feminist angst, or deconstruction. It was a course enchanted by Tolkien's skill as a subcreator, making connections to the England he lived in and the faith he lived, and that means Catholic. Welcome!

The Lord of the Ring-givers course focuses on J.R.R. Tolkien's books The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We examine these works in the light of Tolkien's desire to create a profoundly English and Catholic myth. We also read works of Old English literature such as Beowulf, "The Battle of Maldon," "The Seafarer," and "The Wanderer" in which Tolkien found inspiration. The class does not presuppose familiarity with the books, Old English or Elvish. It's appropriate for the first-time reader while still providing new ideas for the Tolkien veteran.

There is a maximum of 100 pages of reading each week, while the writing portion centers around creating thoughtful and substantial responses to discussion questions. There will be a weekly assignment available online beginning each Sunday evening: a reading assignment, some short comments on points of historical or literary interest, a longer analysis on one particular theme, and a question for submission encouraging the student to think deeper about the text and draw connections to our Catholic faith, myth, and English culture. The weekly question can be answered in a paragraph or two. Most of the questions can be answered in a single paragraph. I am not looking for footnotes, but instead references to the text. (If the student claims Gollum was a lying, thieving coward, he should show me an example that illustrates that point.) The student may write more than a paragraph for the answer, but if I expect multiple paragraphs, I'll mention it explicitly.

In short, the actual writing requirement is not many words-- I'm focusing more on developing quality than quantity of ink spilled. Two required papers, one factual and one persuasive, are due near the end of the year. I will offer suggestions for writing the long paper, breaking the job down to the components of an outline, thesis statement, introduction and conclusions, transitions, footnotes, etc. This would be a good introduction to writing a high school paper. In addition, the weekly questions bear at least slightly on the paper topics, so students craft the meat of their essay as the class progresses. I give personalized feedback on developing and presenting ideas, as well as on the mechanics of writing to help prepare high schoolers for college-level work. The required books are minimal, inexpensive and easily found online or at your local bookstore.

As with other courses, the entirety is conveyed through internet correspondance, so you don't need to leave the comfort of your hobbit-hole. For students local to the Akron area, there is a weekly book club that meets at my house for those who want in-person discussions, but that's an optional extra. For those further flung, the class discussion board is a lively hub of activity, with interested parties conversing about the current readings, Lewis, Tolkien, the Silmarillion and Peter Jackson's movies, asking "do we love 'em or leave 'em?".

The class runs from early September until early May, with a break for Christmas.

Book List

Topics List

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