Lesson from ‘The Lord of the Rings’
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec) - Church Schools
To reflect on the idea that ‘right’ is better than ‘might’ when trying to resolve a problem.
Preparation and materials
You will need a gold ring, a candle, matches and a small torch.
- You will also need the soundtrack from the film, The Lord of the Rings, and the means to play some of it during the assembly. It is 3.40.32 hours long in total and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SBQvd6vY9s (check copyright)
Use the soundtrack theme from the film, The Lord of the Rings, to set the scene while the students enter. Ask questions such as, ‘Which film does this music come from?’, ‘Who are the main characters?’, ‘Who wrote the original book?’ and so on.
Light the candle and show your ring by holding it up high enough for everyone to see. Ask the question, ‘Who can tell me what this is?’ The first answer of ‘a ring’ will then prompt you to ask, ‘So tell me, on what occasion do people normally take a ring and place it on a finger?’ The answer of ‘wedding’ will prompt you to ask a third question, ‘So why do people use a ring to show that they are married?’
Explain that a ring has no beginning and no end, so it represents forever or eternity. Also, explain that it is made from a special metal, so it is a precious thing. Ask the students if they can explain where the word ‘precious’ appears in the story of The Lord of the Rings.
Briefly explain the story of The Lord of the Rings. It is the story of a mission to destroy a golden ring that has the power to turn the holder invisible when it is placed on the holder's finger. The central characters are called hobbits and along the way, various characters are introduced from legend and myth, such as elves and wizards. The hobbits are human in character and have large appetites and thick-skinned feet. The ring has come into the possession of one special hobbit called Frodo and it is his destiny, as it turns out, to destroy the ring.
But why 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, the man who wrote The Lord of the Rings, lived. In fact, it goes all the way back to ancient Greece, where a man called Plato lived in Athens, a city of great learning. Plato was a philosopher, or a man who loved wisdom and sought the answers to all sorts of questions.
One question he asked himself was, ‘If, by some act of fortune, an individual had the chance 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. This meant that he had the chance to do good things or bad things. What do you think he did? Unfortunately, he did the bad things - and Plato had to ask the question, ‘Are there any people who are so good that they would not take advantage of such a device? Is it only the people watching us who keep us from being bad?’
In The Lord of the Rings, we find the same problem and Tolkien wants to find an answer. Poor old Gollum is the character who has the weakness that means he cannot resist the temptation to do bad - even to kill - to hold onto this ring.
Frodo is a good and noble hobbit. He is tempted in a similar way to Gollum, 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. And when it comes to the destruction of the ring, it is his apparent weakness that enables 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 Samwise Gamgee, helped by the greedy Gollum. It is they who manage to get to Mount Doom and destroy the ring in the fires from whence it came.
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 this book during one of the greatest struggles that humankind has ever known - the years leading up to and during the Second World War. Many people have argued about whether Tolkien based his book on the events of the war, but there is no doubt that his ideas are influenced by it. This is always regarded as a very dark period in the history of the world.
Draw the students' attention back to the candle - a single, small light. Even on the darkest of nights, in the darkest of rooms, a small light like this can light the way and make the darkness disappear. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam were like these lights. They were small beacons faced with the darkest of evil, but they overcame it, not through force or shouting or fighting, but through determination, strong will and a love for the things they held truly important - family, friends and each other.
Explain that these qualities are also to be found in the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus taught about a tiny amount of yeast making a massive difference to a loaf of bread, a tiny mustard seed growing into a huge tree and a small light making a significant difference in the darkness.
The life and teaching of Jesus contain the qualities of self-sacrifice that Frodo and Sam regard so highly. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3-12), Jesus speaks of the meek inheriting the earth. By this, he does not mean those who are helpless, but those who can control and develop their own assertiveness and act in a positive way against what is wrong. Jesus showed, against the force of others, that kingship was not just about earthly power, but also about loving people in an ordinary way. He showed that against power and might, love was much stronger.
Time for reflection
Let’s think for a moment about the hobbits. They might have odd, hairy feet, want six meals a day and like the occasional glass of beer, but most importantly, they know what it is to be good and faithful. They know that, even though they are small, they can overcome the might of their enemies because their cause is right. Surely this is a lesson to all of us!
Thank you for giving us the gifts of imagination and creativity that allow us 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’.
Please help us to be lights in dark places.
Can you find any other children's books where children struggle with good and evil? (One example is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.)
What does the word ‘allegory’ mean? How effective is allegory and symbolism in the use of story making?
Discover more things about Plato and the Athenian philosophers, and their relationship to Socrates.
Consider how Jesus might have reacted if he had been given the ring of Gyges.