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The Lord of the Rings

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Key Stage 3

Aims

To reflect on the ideas that right is better than might and great works of literature often have spiritual themes.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need:

    – the soundtrack from one of the films in The Lord of the Rings series and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly or a book with illustrations of Hobbits or images of them and the means to display them

    – a candle, matches and a small torch

    – a golden wedding ring, either your own or one you have borrowed.

  • If you do not know it already, familiarize yourself with the main points of the story of The Lord of the Rings, especially concerning the ring.

Assembly

1. Play the soundtrack from one of the Lord of the Rings films to set the scene while the students are coming in and taking their seats. Alternatively, wait until everyone is seated then show the illustrations or images.

Ask questions such as ‘Which film does this music/do these characters come from?’, ' Who are the main characters?', ' Who wrote the original book?' and so on.
2. Light the candle and show the students the ring by holding it up high enough for all to see.

Who can tell me what this is?

The first time someone gives the answer, 'A ring', ask, 'So, tell me, on what occasion do people normally take a ring and place it on a finger?'

When you hear the answer, 'A wedding', ask, ‘So why do people use a ring to show that they are married?'

There are likely to be various answers that will hopefully include ones something like, ‘A ring has no beginning and no end, so represents forever or eternity’ and that, ‘It is special, made from a special metal and so is a precious thing.’ Then return to the music and/or images and ask who in the film uses the words 'my precious'. The candle can remain lit.

3. Briefly set out the story of The Lord of the Rings along the following lines.

The story of The Lord of the Rings tells of a vital mission to destroy a golden ring that has the power to make its wearer invisible when he places it on his finger and, along the way, various characters are introduced from legend and myth – such as elves and wizards – but other characters were made up by the author – J.R.R. Tolkien.

The made up characters are the Hobbits, who are the central characters. They are very human with large appetites and very big, hairy feet. The ring has come into the possession of a Hobbit called Frodo and it is his destiny, as it turns out, to destroy the ring.

4. Continue by asking questions to involve the students and supplying more information, as follows.

‘Why destroy a ring?’, you might ask and, ‘What is so bad about becoming invisible?’ Well, the answer goes back many hundreds of years before J.R.R. Tolkien lived. In fact, it goes back to ancient Greece, where a man called Plato lived in Athens – a city of great learning.

Plato was a philosopher, which is someone who loves wisdom and seeks out the answers to all sorts of questions about life.

One question Plato asked himself was, 'If an individual had the chance, by some act of fortune, to have all the power in the world, what would he do with it?' Plato decided to tell a story about a shepherd named Gyges who found a ring that could make him invisible and give him the chance to do anything he wanted. He therefore had the chance to do either good things or bad things.

Now, what do you think he did? Unfortunately, he did the bad things. So, Plato asked the question, 'Are there any people so good that they would not take advantage of such a device? Is it only people watching us that keeps us from being bad?'

5. In The Lord of the Rings, the same problem is put to us and Tolkien wants to try and find an answer. Poor old Gollum is the character with a weakness that means he cannot resist the lure and temptation to do bad – even to the point of killing someone in order to hold on to this ring.

6. Frodo, our Hobbit, is tempted in a similar way, but his greatest strength is his willingness to understand his weakness. He doesn't want the burden of the power of the ring. He even tries to give it away to the great wizard, Gandalf. When it comes time to destroy the ring, it is his apparent weakness and frailty that allows him to gain entrance to the kingdom of Mordor where he can try to destroy the ring. His enemies – led by Sauron – expect the ring to be with the armies, but, in fact, it is with the two small Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, helped by the greedy Gollum, and it is they who manage to get to Mount Doom and throw the ring back into the fires from whence it came.

Time for reflection

So, what is this telling us?

Well, the man who wrote The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien, was a brilliant Oxford scholar. He wrote the books during one of the greatest struggles humankind has ever known – the lead up to and then the playing out of the Second World War, now many years ago. Although lots of people have argued about whether or not he based his book on the events of the war, there is no doubt that his ideas were influenced by it. This is always regarded as a very dark period in the history of our country, a very dark time indeed.

Come back to the candle and hold it up or place it in a more prominent place.

Look at the candle – a single, small light. Even on the darkest of nights, even in the darkest of rooms, a small light like a torch (show the torch) or such a candle can light the way and make the darkness disappear.

I think Frodo and Sam are like these lights. They are small beacons, faced with the darkest of evil, but, though it seems unlikely, they manage to overcome it – not by using force or shouting and fighting, but by having the determination, a strong will and a love for the things they hold to be truly important – family, friends, each other, the Shire and the way of life there.

It will not come as a surprise to know that these qualities are also to be found in the life and teachings of Jesus. Have you heard the stories about the small amount of yeast, which enables the whole loaf to rise, or the tiny mustard seed, which grows rapidly until it is the size of a tree, or the light that should not be hidden away?

There are also the qualities of self-sacrifice that Frodo and Sam exhibit so supremely. In Jesus' teaching called the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of the meek inheriting the Earth and he doesn't mean those who are helpless but those who can control and develop their own assertiveness, acting in a positive way against what is wrong. Jesus showed, in the face of force exerted by others, that kingship is not just about earthly power but also about loving people in an ordinary way. He showed that when placed against power and might, love is much stronger.

So, returning to our Hobbits, they might have odd, hairy feet, they might want to have six meals a day and they might even like the occasional glass of beer, but, most importantly, they know what it is to be good, to be faithful and that, even though they are small, they can overcome the might of their enemies because their cause is right. Now doesn't this sound a bit like what we are like?

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for giving us the gifts of imagination and creativity that allow us to experience so much joy.
Help us to use these gifts to recognize that, through the example of the love you showed in Jesus, we can all be empowered to seek right rather than might and good things rather than bad things.
Amen.

Follow-up activity

1. Can you find any other books in which children or young adults struggle with good and evil? (Examples include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Northern Lights by Philip Pullman and the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling).

2. What does 'allegory' mean? How effective is allegory and symbolism in storymaking?

3. Discover more things about Plato and the Athenian philosophers and how their ideas relate to those of Socrates.

4. Consider how Jesus might have reacted if he had been given the ring of Gyges.

Publication date: June 2015   (Vol.17 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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