'Lord' of the Literature; Tolkien Curriculum Opens Eyes to the Classics
Byline: Jennifer Lehner, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Teenagers now can take a literature class that immerses them in the world of hobbits, fairies and wizards made popular by the "Lord of the Rings" movies.
Amelia Harper, a teacher from Nashville, N.C., spent 20 months developing "Literary Lesson from 'Lord of the Rings,' " a one-year curriculum for students ages 12 to 18. The course includes background on classics such as "Beowulf," "The Iliad" and the "Arthurian Romances," but its focus is on the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien.
"In my opinion, it is one of the most powerful pieces of literature ever written by man," Mrs. Harper said. "No other piece of literature that I have ever read can make me both feel and think the way this one does."
Mrs. Harper first read the Tolkien series when she was 15 and read it every summer in her youth. Now 43, the home-schooling parent and teacher said she has read each of the three "Rings" volumes at least 25 times.
"I would visit Middle-earth every day," she said. "It was a mental escape."
When the first "Lord of the Rings " movie was released, Mrs. Harper avoided it, fearing that the film version would not live up to the books she loved so dearly.
When "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was released on video, however, she set aside her fears and watched the first movie in the trilogy. She was pleasantly surprised.
"When I saw it, I was hooked," the self-described "Tolkien purist" acknowledged. "I was driven back to the books, to check my own memory of how the stories compared."
It was not her own reaction that surprised her the most, however.
"More than anything, I saw the way that young people responded to this film - how they were entranced by it," she said.
Teaching British literature at the time, Mrs. Harper had an idea: Because "The Lord of the Rings" was inspired by classical works, why not use it in conjunction with older texts in a high school literature class?
"I hoped to open their eyes to the wonders of literary creation in a whole new way - a way that would make them want to read and explore other books for themselves," she said.
She made sure her new curriculum did not follow the tendency to present "old tales like trophies under glass, when students really need to see how they impact the stories that they love today."
"It's great to have all these kids now, as a result of this movie, reading a 1,200- to 1,500-page novel," said Ralph Wood, a professor of religion at Baylor University and the author of "The Gospel According to Tolkien."
Reading the Tolkien books "is a good way to work forward and backward," Mr. Wood said. "To understand the epic world, you need to read works like the 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey.' "
Although she originally had planned "Literary Lessons from 'Lord of the Rings' " to be used by home-schooled students, Mrs. …