A Journey to Middle-Earth
Lessons from ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’
by Claire Law
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To explore how The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels draw on themes and symbolism from the Bible.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (A Journey to Middle Earth) and the means to display them.
- Have available the following YouTube videos and the means to show them during the assembly:
- ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring official trailer’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V75dMMIW2B4 (2.55 minutes long)
- ‘The Lord of the Rings: Elrond leads Isildur to Mount Doom’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIzjZ8r1s9U (0.29 minutes long)
- ‘Do not leave the path!’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTAk4I-BxQE (0.44 minutes long)
- Optional: as the students enter, you may wish to play the main theme from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings films. It is 5.57 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iYEwFDLVnM
- Show Slide 1.
Welcome the students to the assembly and explain that today, we are going on an adventure to Middle-earth! Ask whether any of the students have heard of Middle-earth.
Go on to explain that Middle-earth is the fictional creation of a famous author who was born in January: J. R. R. Tolkien, best-known for writing The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
- Show Slide 2.
Here, we see a painting of Tolkien, surrounded by papers and images as he creates The Lord of the Rings and dreams up Middle-earth and all its inhabitants.
Tolkien was born 130 years ago, in January 1892. From an early age, he showed an interest in books and in writing. He was educated at home by his mother until he was 12 and went on to study English at Oxford. Following his graduation, he fought in the First World War. When the war was over, he secured a job working on the Oxford English Dictionary, where he researched the origin of words beginning with the letter W! Next, he became a professor at the University of Leeds and then at Oxford, which is where he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He finished the latter in 1948.
- The Lord of the Rings is an epic adventure that is set in the fantasy land of Middle-earth. The overarching plot is a battle between good and evil. The antagonist is the dark lord Sauron, who seeks power over all in Middle-earth by creating the One Ring. The heroes seek to capture and destroy the One Ring to ensure peace throughout Middle-earth.
- Show Slide 3.
The film version of The Lord of the Rings has meant that more people have become familiar with Middle-earth. The three films, which were released between 2001 and 2003, won multiple Academy Awards and are still popular almost 20 years later.
Let’s take a moment to get a sense of these films, and the fictional land of Middle-earth, by watching the trailer for the first film: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Show the YouTube video ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring official trailer’ (2.55 minutes long).
- It has also been announced that a TV series based on The Lord of the Rings is due to be released on Amazon Prime in September this year, which some of us may be eagerly awaiting!
Time for reflection
As we think about the fantasy land of Middle-earth, is there anything that we can take away to help us in our everyday reality?
Tolkien was clear that The Lord of the Rings held a spiritual message. He was a committed Christian and believed in the truth of the Bible. He saw that there was a real struggle between living a life based on God’s will and the temptation to go our own way and live selfishly, without regard for others.
The Lord of the Rings explores the theme of a battle between good and evil: between exerting control over others and living a generous and caring life. The books illustrate the pull that we feel to live only for our own interests, without regard for others.
One of the key themes in The Lord of the Rings is the struggle to resist the corruption that domination over others can bring. The One Ring is the symbol of such corrupting power. It is tempting to possess such control and feel superior to others, to think that our needs matter more than those of others. However, in the end, such domination over others leads to a world of inequality and suffering.
We know only too well how humans have suffered at the hands of people who seek to exert control over others. The slave trade and the Holocaust are just two examples of how power and control can bring untold suffering for millions.
In our own lives too, it can be tempting to seek power over others and feel superior to them. Bullying, racism and sexism are all forms of seeking power over others.
In the film, The Fellowship of the Ring, there is a scene where the temptation to hold onto the One Ring and resist destroying it for good is overwhelming. Let’s see a clip from that scene.
Show the YouTube video ‘The Lord of the Rings: Elrond leads Isildur to Mount Doom’ (0.29 minutes long).
Show Slide 4.
In the Bible, we read, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
In other words, for Christians, including Tolkien, the idea that one group or one person should regard themselves as superior or seek to control others is unhelpful. Instead, we should remember that we are all created equal and have equal worth.
The Lord of the Rings shows us how challenging it can be to live a moral life. To choose good over evil and seek to make ethical choices is difficult. For the inhabitants of Middle-earth, and the members of the Fellowship of the Ring who have undertaken to end Sauron’s attempts to dominate, there are many struggles and choices along the way.
Show Slide 5.
In the Bible, Jesus advises us on how to live a good life. He says, ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’
There are echoes of this advice in The Hobbit, when Bilbo and the dwarves are about to enter Mirkwood, a dark and sinister place. Gandalf warns the group to keep to the path rather than heading their own way. Let’s see this scene depicted in the film.
Show the YouTube video ‘Do not leave the path!’ (0.44 minutes long)
Often, it can be tempting to go our own way, to turn away from what, deep down, we know to be right. The path of living a caring, compassionate and generous life is difficult to walk. To live a life following the way of Jesus is hard when we face the temptation to go our own way. When we make choices in line with our conscience, we stick to the path. When we choose to act selfishly and in ways that hurt others, we wander from the path.
So, we can see that some of the themes and symbolism in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings help to illuminate what Christians believe to be the truth of the Bible.
Challenge the students to consider what sort of message they will take away from The Lord of the Rings that can help them to live out their lives, not in Middle-earth, but here in school!
We face many challenges every day.
Life can feel like a struggle between what we know to be right and the temptation to go our own way.
We see both good and evil in our world.
We see how people abuse power and seek control.
We also see acts of love, kindness and generosity.
Help us to commit to the path in life that we know to be right.
When we face challenges, when we are tempted to go our own way, show us what the path of love, compassion and generosity looks like.
When we see injustice and hurt in our world, give us the courage to act with love.
The main theme from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings films, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iYEwFDLVnM (5.57 minutes long)